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Full text of "CMH Pub 5-4 Victory In Papua"

UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 

The War in the Pacific 
VICTORY IN PAPUA 

by 

Samuel Milner 




CENTER OF Ml I AVAR Y HISTOR Y 
UNITED STA TES ARMY 
WASHINGTON, B.C., 1989 



Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 56-60001 



First Printed 1957 — CMH Pub 5-4 



For sale by ihe Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office 
Washington, D.C. 20402 



UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 



Kent Roberts Greenfield, General Editor 



Advisory Committee 

(As of 30 March 1955) 



James P. Baxter 
President, Williams College 

Samuel Flagg Bemis 
Yale University 

Gordon A. Craig 
Princeton University 

Elmer Ellis 
University of Missouri 

William T. Hutchinson 
University of Chicago 



Brig. Gen. Samuel G. Conley 
Continental Army Command 

Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Dunn 
Army War College 

Brig. Gen. Charles E. Beauchamp 
Command and General Staff College 

Brig. Gen. Urban Niblo 
Industrial College of the Armed Forces 

Col. Thomas D. Stamps 
United States Military Academy 



Charles H. Taylor 
Harvard University 



Office of the Chief of Military History 
Maj. Gen. Albert C. Smith, Chief 



Chief Historian 

Chief, War Histories Division 

Chief, Editorial and Publication Division 

Chief, Editorial Branch 

Chief, Cartographic Branch 

Chief, Photographic Branch 



Kent Roberts Greenfield 
Col. Ridgway P. Smith, Jr. 
Col. William H. Francis 
Joseph R. Friedman 
Maj. James P. Holly 
Margaret E. Tackley 



iii 



. . . to Those Who Served 



Foreword 



This is a companion volume to the one on Guadalcanal in the series on the 
war in the Pacific. Both record the operations designed to halt the advance 
of the enemy toward the vital transpacific line of communications with Australia 
and secure Australia as a base. Success in Papua and Guadalcanal, achieved 
in February 1943, put the Allied forces in a position to neutralize Rabaul and, 
this accomplished, to advance to the Philippines. 

The present volume concentrates on the action of one United States Army 
division. In telling the story of a comparatively limited number of troops, the 
author has been able to present the combat experience of small units in sharper 
focus than has been possible in most of the other full-scale campaign volumes. 

The campaign abounds in lessons. Of these one of the most vital is the fre- 
quent necessity for all commanders to evaluate their own actions by asking them- 
selves this question: "How could I have helped, how should I have helped, how 
can I help my subordinates to accomplish their assigned tasks?" 



Washington, D. C. 
15 March 1955 



A. G. SMITH 

Maj. Gen., U. S. A. 

Chief of Military History 



Vll 



The Author 

Mr. Samuel Milner holds a graduate degree in history from the University 
of Alberta and has done further graduate work in political science at the Uni- 
versity of Minnesota. During World War II, he served in Australia and New 
Guinea as a historian with the Air Transport Command, Army Air Forces. Upon 
completing Victory in Papua he left the Office, Chief of Military History, to 
become historian of the Air W r eather Service, U.S. Air Force. 



Vlll 



Preface 



The strategic significance of the Papuan Campaign can be briefly stated. In 
addition to blunting the Japanese thrust toward Australia and the transpacific 
line of communications, it put General MacArthur's forces in a favorable position 
to take the offensive. But this little known campaign is significant for still 
another reason. It was the battle test of a large hitherto-inexperienced 
U. S. Army force and its commanders under the conditions which were to attend 
much of the ground fighting in the Pacific. Costly in casualties and suffering, 
it taught lessons that the Army had to learn if it was to cope with the Japanese 
under conditions of tropical warfare. 

Since the official records of this early campaign were quite poor, the task of 
portraying American ground action in it accurately required that a great deal of 
essential information be found elsewhere. This supplementary information was 
secured in large part from participants whose names are to be found in the 
Bibliographical Note at the end of the volume All of them have my thanks, 
and certain of them who went to great lengths to help me have my special thanks. 
The following (ranks as of February 1952 when the manuscript was completed) 
are in the latter category: Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, Maj. Gen. Clovis E. 
Byers, Maj. Gen. Jens A. Doe, Maj. Gen. Edwin F. Harding, Maj. Gen. Clarence 
A. Martin, Maj. Gen. Albert W. Waldron, Col. Bernd G. Baetcke, Col. Charles 
R. Dawley, Col. John E. Grose, Col. Alexander J. MacNab, Col. Kelsie E. Miller, 
Col. Herbert A. Smith, Col. Clarence M. Tomlinson, Lt. Col. Peter L. Dal Ponte, 
Lt. Col. Herbert M. Smith, Lt. Col. Bert Zeeff, and Maj. Robert H. Odell. A 
true picture of conditions as they existed at the time could not have been given 
without their help. 

To tell the Australian side of the story adequately also required more informa- 
tion than was to be found in the available sources. That I never lacked for such 
information was due principally to Gavin Long, the Official Australian War 
Historian and to two members of his staff, John Balfour and Dudley McCarthy. 
McCarthy's draft chapters on Australian action on the Sanananda front were 
invaluable in helping me to round out the picture of the fighting that went on 
on that front. Lt. Col. Peter S. Teesdale-Smith, a participant in the campaign 
and a member of the Australian Military Mission in Washington during the time 
that this book was in preparation, helped me greatly in making Australian action 
come alive. 



IX 



While the information thus given me has been of the greatest assistance, the 
responsibility both for the way it was used and for any errors that may have 
resulted is, of course, my own. 

In the Office of the Chief of Military History, I wish to express my gratitude 
to Dr. Kent Roberts Greenfield, Chief Historian, for his careful reading of the 
manuscript and his excellent suggestions for its improvement. Particular thanks 
are due to Mr. Joseph R. Friedman, Chief of the Editorial Branch, for his 
extremely fine work in editing the manuscript. It was a pleasure to work with 
him. Thanks are also due to Mr. Wsevelod Aglaimoff, now Cartographic 
Adviser to the Chief Historian, who prepared the layouts for the maps and 
supervised their production; to Maj. James F. Holly, Chief of the Cartographic 
Branch, who carried out the detailed research for the maps; and to Miss Margaret 
E. Tackley, Chief of the Photographic Branch, who selected the illustrations. 
My special thanks go to Miss Valerie K. Stubbs of the General Reference Section 
for checking the numerous Distinguished Service Cross citations referred to in 
the book. This was no mean task since, in addition to the two Medals of Honor 
awarded in the campaign, more than a hundred Distinguished Service Crosses 
were also awarded. 

Washington, D. C. SAMUEL MILNER 

15 March 1955 



Contents 



Chapter Page 

I. THE JAPANESE THREATEN AUSTRALIA 1 

The Danger 1 

The Plan To Isolate Australia 11 

II. PREPARING THE DEFENSE 14 

The High Command Acts 14 

The Interim Period 18 

The Defensive Problem 23 

The Sufficiency of the Means 27 

III. THE THWARTED LANDING 33 

Frustration at Jomard Passage 33 

Securing the Approaches 40 

IV. PROVIDENCE FORESTALLED 45 

Moving to the Offensive 45 

The SWPA Prepares 48 

The PROVIDENCE Operation 51 

The Japanese Get There First 53 

V. KOKODA THRUST 56 

Planning the Overland Attack 56 

The Japanese Strike Inland 61 

The Main Force Arrives 66 

VI. THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 72 

The SWPA: Early August 72 

The Defense Falls Into Place 74 

The Battle of Milne Bay 77 

The Road to Ioribaiwa 88 

The Australians Take the Offensive 100 

VII. THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 101 

The Approach to the Target 102 

Completing the Deployment 115 

Drawing the Noose Tight 119 

VIII. THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 125 

Mounting the Attack 125 

The 32d Division on the Eve of Combat 132 

The Enemy Position 139 



xi 



Chapter Page 

IX. THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA . . 147 

The Attacks on Gona 147 

The 16th Brigade Moves on Sanananda 151 

The Americans Take Over 155 

X. THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 168 

General Harding Readjusts His Plans 168 

The Battle Opens 174 

The Attacks of 30 November 1 89 

XI. I CORPS REACHES THE FRONT 196 

The Situation: 30 November 1 96 

General Eichelberger Is Ordered Forward 202 

Buna Operations: 1 and 2 December 206 

General Harding's Relief 208 

XII. THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 213 

Operations in the Gona Area 213 

The Sanananda Front 21 9 

The Japanese Reinforce the Beachhead 231 

XIII. BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 234 

The Attack of 5 December 234 

Colonel Martin Softens Up the Enemy Line 245 

Urbana Force Makes Its First Gains 248 

The Scene Brightens 254 

XIV. WARREN FORCE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 260 

The Advance to Simemi Creek 260 

Crossing the Creek 267 

The Fight for the Old Strip 272 

XV. URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 282 

The Search for an Axis of Attack 282 

The Attack Moves North 288 

The Subsidiary Operations 291 

The Corridor to the Coast 293 

XVI. THE FALL OF BUNA 304 

The Advance to Giropa Point 304 

The Capture of Buna Mission 309 

The End at Buna 319 

Buna's Cost 323 

The Situation to the Westward 324 



xii 



Chapter Page 

XVII. CLEARING THE TRACK JUNCTION 328 

General Herring Calls a Conference 328 

The Preliminary Operations 335 

Tokyo Decides To Withdraw 346 

The Clean-up South of Musket 348 

XVIII. THE FINAL OFFENSIVE 350 

The Three-Way Push 350 

Finishing the Job 358 

The Victory at Sanananda 364 

The 41st Division Takes Over 368 

XIX. THE VICTORY 369 

The Campaign in Review 369 

What the Campaign Taught 376 

Conclusion 377 

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 379 

GLOSSARY 386 

BASIC MILITARY MAP SYMBOLS 391 

INDEX 395 

Maps 

No. Page 

1. Battle of Coral Sea, 5-8 May 1942 35 

2. Bulolo Valley Area 42 

3. The Pacific Areas, 1 August 1942 49 

4. Kokoda-Templeton's Crossing Area 58 

5. Japanese Attack at Milne Bay, 26-31 August 1942 78 

6. Plan of 1 October 1942 101 

7. Plan of Attack, 16 November 1942 127 

8. Establishing Roadblock on Sanananda Road, 22-30 November 1942 . . 157 

9. Japanese Defenses at Buna 175 

10. Situation on Approaches to Buna, Evening, 30 November 1942 .... 190 

11. Sanananda Front, December 1942 220 

12. Warren and Urbana Fronts, 1-16 December 1942 236 

13. Warren Front, 18-28 December 1942 262 

14. Urbana Front, 18-28 December 1942 283 

15. The Fall of Buna, 31 December 1942-2 January 1943 306 

16. Sanananda Front, 3— 12 January 1 943 331 

17. Sanananda Front, Last Phase, 15-22 January 1943 352 



Xlll 



No. Maps I—V Are in Inverse Order Inside Back Cover 

I. Papuan Campaign Area 
II. Japanese Thrust Along Kokoda Trail, 22 July-16 September 1942 

III. Allied Advance Across Owen Stanley Range, 26 September-15 November 1942 

IV. The Buna Area 

V. Closing in on Japanese Beachhead, 16-21 November 1942 

Illustrations Page 

General MacArthur Arriving in Sydney 19 

General Orders No. 1, 18 April 1942 21 

The Battle of the Coral Sea 36, 37 

USS Torklown Under Japanese Fire 47 

Papua 57 

Jungled Mountain Ridges Near the Gap 59 

Port Moresby 75 

Milne Bay Area 80 

Australian Riflemen Passing Abandoned Japanese Tanks 85 

Wharf at Gili Gili 88 

General Harding 91 

32d Division Troops 93 

Bridge at Wairopi 97 

Coastal Shuttle Operations 109 

Kapa Kapa Trail, September 1942 Ill 

Crossing a Branch of Eroro Creek 118 

Chow Line Along the Muddy Trail 119 

Taking a Break 122,123 

Simemi Village 129 

Lt. Col. Herbert A. Smith 130 

General MacNider 131 

107th Medical Battalion Corpsmen at Ward's Drome 136 

Coconut Log Bunker With Fire Trench Entrance 142 

Interior of Coconut Log Bunker 143 

Gona Mission Area 148 

Natives With Supplies and Ammunition 160 

"Fuzzy Wuzzy" Natives 161 

Making Litters for the Wounded 166 

Australian 3.7-inch Pack Howitzer 170 

General Waldron 171 

128th Infantrymen 172,173 

126th Infantrymen Passing Through Hariko 183 

First Aid Station, Simemi 198 

First Aid Station, Hariko 199 

114th Engineer Battalion 200 

Boatload of Rations 229 



xiv 



Page 

Disabled Bren Gun Carriers 239 

Three Generals Convalescing 258 

General Stuart Light Tanks M3 265 

Simemi Creek Area 268 

Bridge Over Simemi Creek 269 

Swamp East of the Bridge 270 

American and Australian Casualties 275 

Warren Force Men After the Attack 280 

127th Regimental Headquarters Command Post 287 

Footbridge Over Entrance Creek 292 

Japanese-Built Bridge 295 

General Eichelberger and Members of His Staff 302 

Firing a 60-mm. Mortar 308 

37-mm. Antitank Gun 318 

32d Division Troops Examine Booty 320 

Emaciated Prisoners Being Led to the Rear Area 321 

General Blarney Touring the Battle Area 322 

Weary Soldier Sleeps 326 

General Herring . 332 

Sanananda Point 334 

Collapsible Assault Boats 337 

Setting Up a Field Switchboard 340 

General MacArthur With General Kenney 344 

.50-cal. Browning Machine Gun 360 

Order of the Day, 22 January 1943 365 

Dobodura Airstrip 366, 367 

Japanese Prisoners at Dobodura 373 



The illustrations on pages 19 and 85 are Australian War Memorial 
photographs; those on pages 295 and 326 are Life photographs taken by 
Strock. All other illustrations are from the files of the Department of 
Defense. 

Photos on pages 295 and 326 ©George Strock/Timepix (2002) 



xv 



CHAPTER I 



The Japanese Threaten Australia 



In mid-1942, the Japanese made two at- 
tempts to take Port Moresby, a key Aus- 
tralian base in southeast New Guinea. These 
efforts were part of a plan to isolate Aus- 
tralia lest it be used for counteroffensives 
against them. Port Moresby was an invit- 
ing target, for it stood guard over Aus- 
tralia's vital Melbourne-Brisbane coastal 
belt, the Commonwealth's most thickly pop- 
ulated and most highly industrialized area. 
The first attempt was turned back by the 
U.S. Pacific Fleet at the Battle of the Coral 
Sea; the second resulted in the Papuan Cam- 
paign, one of the longest and most bitterly 
fought campaigns of the Pacific War. The 
fight ostensibly was for Port Moresby, but 
it was Australia, no less than Port Mores- 
by, which was in danger. 

The Danger 

Australia's Plight 

Since late 1939 when they first began 
sending troops to the Middle East, the Aus- 
tralians had relied upon the British forces in 
Malaya, the base at Singapore, and the Brit- 
ish Eastern Fleet to hold the Japanese en- 
emy from their shores should he attack. 
They had sent troops, ships, and planes to 
Malaya before the Japanese struck; and, in 
mid- January 1942, with the Japanese mov- 



ing forward rapidly in Burma, Malaya, and 
the Netherlands Indies, and the bulk of 
Gen. Douglas MacArthur's command in the 
Philippines already cut off on Bataan, their 
government had joined with other Allied 
governments in the Far East in the estab- 
lishment of the American, British, Dutch, 
Australian Command (ABDACOM) . Gen. 
Sir Archibald P. Wavell of the British Army, 
and then Commander-in-Chief, India, was 
put in supreme command. 1 Named as his 
deputy was Lt. Gen. George H. Brett, at 
the time Commanding General, United 
States Army Forces in Australia 
(USAFIA). USAFIA, a small hastily im- 
provised service command a few weeks old, 
was engaged, on the one hand, in largely 
barren attempts to get supplies through 
to the Philippines by blockade runner and, 
on the other, in providing for the supply of 
American air units striking at the enemy 
from Darwin and advance bases in the 
Netherlands Indies. 2 

General Wavell was given as his principal 



1 Despatch by the Supreme Commander of the 
ABDA Area to the Combined Chiefs of Staff (Lon- 
don, 1948) ; Gavin Long, Australia in the Second 
World War, Part Seven, Ch. XXVII, pp. 389-95, 
in C. Hartley Grattan, ed., Australia (Berkeley, 
1947); Winston S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate 
(Boston, 1950), p. 14. 



2 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



mission the task of holding the Malay Bar- 
rier, a defensive line which included the 
Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, and 
Timor and extended eastward from Timor 
to the coastal waters of northwestern 
Australia. Australia (specifically excluded 
from the ABDA Area at the time) was to 
be used as "an essential supporting posi- 
tion." 3 

As the Allied plan of operations called for 
the build-up at top speed in Australia of a 
strong U.S. air force to strike at the enemy 
from forward bases in Java, USAFIA be- 
came in effect a supply echelon of ABDA- 
COM, charged primarily with the logistical 
support of U.S. air operations in Java. 
United States aircraft and supplies would 
be rushed to Australia by way of the newly 
opened South Pacific ferry route whose 
island bases — Hawaii, Christmas Island, 
Canton Island, Samoa, Fiji, and New Cale- 



' Msg, CG AAF to Gen Brett, No. 59, 2 Jan 42, 
copy in AG 381 (1-1-42) Misc., DRB HRS, AGO; 
Msg, Gen Brett to Gen George C. Marshall, No. 
CR 0139, CM-IN 30, 23 Jan 42; Maj Gen Julian 
F. Barnes, Rpt of Orgn and Activities USAFIA, 
copy in OCMH files. The command had been 
established on 22 December as the United States 
Forces in Australia (USFIA) upon the arrival at 
Brisbane of the Pensacola convoy, a 4,600-man 
movement of air corps and field artillery troops 
originally destined for Manila and diverted to 
Australia upon the outbreak of hostilities with 
Japan. General Brett, a noted air corps officer, and 
then a major general, reached Australia by air from 
Chungking on 31 December and took command, 
becoming commander of United States Army Forces 
in Australia (USAFIA) when USFIA took that 
name on 5 January. For a full account of the con- 
temporary operations of the United States Army 
Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), General Mac- 
Arthur's command in the Philippines, and of the 
blockade-running activi ty, see Louis Morton, The 
\Fall of the PhiliPiines.W 'NITET) STATES ARMY 
IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1953). 

' CCS Dir to Supreme Comdr ABDA Area, 2 Jan 
42, copy in ABDACOM Msg File, OPD Exec File. 



donia — formed steppingstones all the way 
from the west coast of the United States to 
the east coast of Australia. Upon arrival the 
planes and materiel would be assigned to 
General Wavell for defense of the Barrier. 4 
The Australians were left to defend the is- 
land continent's eastern and northeastern 
approaches as best they could using their 
own resources, the assumption at the time 
being that Australia was safe as long as the 
Barrier held. 

The trouble was that Australia was, if 
anything, even more exposed from the 
northeast than from the northwest. What 
was more, it had heavy obligations there, 
being responsible for the defense of terri- 
tories in New Guinea, the Bismarck Archi- 
pelago, and the Solomon Islands. Its two 
territories in New Guinea — Papua, a ter- 
ritory of the Commonwealth, and North 
East New Guinea, a part of its New Guinea 
Mandate — together made up the eastern 
half of that immense island, the rest being 
controlled by the Dutch. Its mandated ter- 
ritory also included New Britain and New 
Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago and 
Buka and Bougainville in the northern 
Solomons. It was, in addition, responsible 
for the defense of the British, or southern, 
Solomons, the whole New Guinea-Bis- 
marcks-Solomons defense zone being known 
as the Northeast Area. 

The means available to the Australians 
for the defense of this vast area and of 



4 Msg, Gen Brett to Gen Marshall, No. CR 0139, 
CM-IN 30, 23 Jan 42; Msgs, Gen Marshall to 
Gen MacArthur, No. 879, 24 Dec 42. No. 835, 26 
Dec 41, in AG 381 (12-25-41), Sec 1 ; Msg, Gen 
Marshall to Gen Brett, No. 41, 25 Dec 41, in same 
file; Msg, Marshall to Brett, No. 25, 16 Jan 42, in 
WPD 4639-19; Memo, Brig Gen Leonard T. Gerow, 
ACofS, for Gen Marshall, 27 Jan 42, sub: Messages 
from Australia, in WPD 4628-24. 



THE JAPANESE THREATEN AUSTRALIA 



3 



Australia itself were very limited. By late 
1941 Australia, a country of only a little 
over seven million people, had already been 
at war for more than two years. Loyally 
joining the mother country in the fight 
against the European Axis, the Australians 
had dispersed their land, sea, and air 
strength around the world. When the Jap- 
anese struck, nine squadrons of the Royal 
Australian Air Force (RAAF) were serv- 
ing with the British in the United Kingdom, 
the Middle East, and Malaya. Some 8,800 
Australians were with the Royal Air Force 
(RAF). Major units of the Royal Aus- 
tralian Navy (RAN), which then consisted 
principally of two heavy and three light 
cruisers, had just reached home waters after 
months of service with the Royal Navy in 
the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. 

Australia's only trained and equipped 
troops, four divisions of the Australian Im- 
perial Forces (AIF), the overseas volunteer 
force, were nearly all abroad. The 8th Aus- 
tralian Infantry Division, less one brigade, 
was in Malaya. The remaining three di- 
visions, the 6th, 7th, and 9th, were in the 
Middle East. By agreement with Mr. Win- 
ston S. Churchill, the British Prime Min- 
ister, the 6th and 7th Divisions' six brigades, 
with corps and service troops, had been or- 
dered to Malaya on 8 December, but their 
leading elements were not due to arrive 
there until early March. Two of the re- 
maining three battalions of the 8th Division 
had been sent to the Netherlands Indies to 
reinforce the Dutch garrisons at Amboina 
and Timor, The last battalion was at Rabaul 
in New Britain, the main Australian base 
in the Bismarck Archipelago, and a few 
hundred troops, part of an independent 
(Commando) company, were scattered 
through the islands north and south of 
Rabaul. The defense of the mainland and 



of its main outpost in New Guinea, Port 
Moresby, was left to the militia. 5 

Australia's home defenses were in a des- 
perate state. Most of the 165 combat air- 
craft which it had in the Pacific when the 
Japanese struck were in Malaya. The total 
bombing force available for Australia's de- 
fense consisted of twenty-nine Hudson me- 
dium bombers and fourteen Catalina flying 
boats, forty-three aircraft in all. Inasmuch 
as Australia's only fighter-type planes, ob- 
solete Brewster Buffaloes, were in Malaya, 
RAAF units defending the homeland had 
no choice but to employ in lieu of fighter 
planes the Australian-built Wirraway, a 
type of advance trainer virtually useless in 
aerial combat. 6 

The ground forces were not much better 
off. Except for training cadres and an 
Australian Imperial Forces armored division 
without tanks, there were virtually no 
trained soldiers left in Australia. The bulk 
of those at hand were militia troops who 
would need months of training before they 
would be ready for combat. 

The Australian home defense organiza- 
tion, the Australian Military Forces ( AMF ) 
had two components: the Permanent 
Forces or regular army (28,000 men in 
September 1939), and the Citizen Military 



5 Msg, Prime Minister of Australia to Prime Min- 
ister of United Kingdom, 21 Feb 42, in OPD Exec 
Off File, Bk 4; WD, Survey of Australia, 25 Feb 
42, pp. 95-97, copy in OCMH files; Rpt on Aus- 
tralia for the CinC Allied Forces, 14 Mar 42, in 
G-3 Jnl GHQ SWPA; Long, Australia in the 
Second World War, pp. 391, 396; Churchill, The 
Hinge of Fate, p. 10. 

AAF, The Army Air Forces in the War Against 
Japan, 1941-1942 (Washington, 1945), p. 62; 
USSBS, The Campaigns of the Pacific War (Wash- 
ington, 1946), p. 53; E. Roland Walker, The Aus- 
tralian Economy in War and Reconstruction (New 
York, 1947), p. 57. 



4 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Forces (CMF), the conscripted home de- 
fense force then liable for service only in 
Australia and Papua. The AMF was poorly 
armed. It was deficient in field equipment 
and, until February 1942, when the full 
mobilization of the CMF was finally com- 
pleted, did not have even its minimum quota 
of small arms. It was organized into seven 
militia divisions, but these were at best only 
training units, which had just begun to train 
their personnel on a full-time basis. 

It had been planned to keep the militia 
force at a constant strength of 250,000 men, 
but during 1941 only half that number had 
been in the training camps at any one time. 
The basis of call, three months in camp and 
three months at home, had insured that 
Australia's overtaxed war industry would 
not be robbed of men it could ill afford to 
lose, but it had not done much to further 
the training of the troops, most of whom 
were scarcely beyond the recruit stage when 
full-time training began. 

An organized reserve of about 50,000 
men, the Volunteer Defence Corps ( VDC ) , 
was also available for defense of the main- 
land. Made up principally of veterans of 
World War I, who served in their home dis- 
tricts on a part-time basis without pay, the 
VDC at the outset had to use whatever 
weapons were at hand, including in some 
cases shotguns and antiquated fowling 
pieces. 7 

The Australian Chiefs of Staff, the 



' Memo, Brig Gen Raymond E. Lee for ACofS 
WPD, 9 Jan 42, in SWPA-MacArthur File, OPD 
Exec File; Ltr, Gavin Long, Official War Historian, 
Australia, to Maj Gen Orlando Ward, Chief of 
Military History, USA, 7 Mar 51, in OCMH files; 
WD, Survey of Australia, pp. 95-100; Long, Aus- 
tralia in the Second World War, pp. 395-97. 



staff officers charged with the security of 
Australia, were faced with the problem of 
how best to use their inadequate forces in 
its defense. To begin with, they had to de- 
cide whether to make the principal defense 
effort in Australia or on its periphery, in 
the Northeast Area. 

After pondering the situation, the Chiefs 
of Staff came to the conclusion that, with 
untrained, ill-equipped troops, a critical lack 
of aircraft, and insufficient naval forces, an 
effective defense of the forward bases to the 
northeast, especially the base at Rabaul, was 
out of the question. Additional troops com- 
mitted to their reinforcement would prob- 
ably be lost, and the only result would be 
to reduce by that much the forces available 
for the final defense of the mainland. On 
15 December 1941 they therefore recom- 
mended to the Australian war cabinet that 
the existing garrison at Rabaul, and lesser 
garrisons in its vicinity, be neither with- 
drawn nor increased, but that the garrison 
at Port Moresby (which in their opinion 
had some chance of survival because of its 
more favorable geographical position) be 
increased from a battalion to a brigade 
group, the largest force that could be main- 
tained there out of Australia's slender re- 
sources. 8 The rest of Australia's available 
manpower and resources would be con- 



s Memo, Lt Gen V. A. H. Sturdee, CGS AMF, 
and Lt Gen Sydney F. Rowell, VCGS AMF, for 
author, 16 Dec 47, in OCMH files. Generals 
Sturdee and Rowell, respectively Chief and Deputy 
Chief of the General Staff, AMF, in December 
1941, and the last remaining members of the Chief 
of Staff organization of that day to be still serving 
in 1947, graciously wrote this memorandum for the 
author to present the point of view of the Australian 
Chiefs of Staff during the opening months of the 
war. 



THE JAPANESE THREATEN AUSTRALIA 



5 



centrated on the mainland, the assumption 
being that as matters stood there was no 
choice but to make the fight for Australia 
in Australia itself. 

The war cabinet accepted these recom- 
mendations, and the available troops were 
deployed accordingly. Because of Austra- 
lia's vast area, its 12,000-mile coast line, 
and the slowness and general inadequacy at 
the time of its road and rail communica- 
tions, a relatively static local defense of the 
country's most vital areas was adopted. Pro- 
vision was made, however, for a mobile re- 
serve in each military district or command 
in order to give the defense as much flexi- 
bility as possible. The main concentration 
of forces was in the Brisbane-Newcastle- 
Sydney-Melbourne area, the industrial and 
agricultural heart of Australia. Smaller 
forces were deployed in South Australia, 
Western Australia, and Tasmania, and 
independent garrisons were established at 
Darwin, Townsville, Cairns, and Thursday 
Island. A reinforced battalion was sent to 
Port Moresby, and the garrisons at Rabaul 
and in the rest of the Northeast Area were 
left to fend for themselves. 8 

The situation to the northeast was ex- 
ceedingly grave. Except for Port Moresby, 
the Northeast Area was held by only token 
forces, and even Port Moresby was in no 
position to defend itself successfully. Its 
strength, with the arrival of the promised 
reinforcements in January, was 3,000 men, 
but the troops were only partially trained, 
and their support — a 6-inch coastal battery, 
a 3. 7 -inch antiaircraft battery, a few anti- 
tank guns, and a handful of Catalinas and 
Hudsons — was scarcely such as to give any 



* Rpt on Australia for CinC Allied Forces, 14 
Mar 42 ; WD, Survey of Australia, p. 96. 



confidence that the place could be held 
against a full-scale Japanese attack. 10 

To the northwest of Port Moresby, high 
in the mountains of North East New 
Guinea, there was another, much smaller, 
force. It consisted of a single platoon of 
the 1st Australian Independent Company, 
AIF, and a few hundred men of the New 
Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR), a local 
militia recruited in Papua and territories 
of the Mandate. This force held the 3,000- 
foot-high Bulolo Valley, an area famous in 
prewar days for its gold mining activity. 
The valley, which boasted a small mountain 
airfield at Wau, was most strategically sit- 
uated. Airplanes based at Wau were within 
easy flying distance of the great bight known 
as the Huon Gulf, and a series of native 
trails connected the valley with Lae and 
Salamaua, the two most important points 
on the gulf. Too weak even to attempt to 
hold Lae and Salamaua, the NGVR and 
AIF troops based themselves principally in 
the valley intending, when the Japanese 
came, to harass them from there and, later 
on when greater strength was available, to 
drive them out. 11 

Rabaul, a fine seaport at the northeast 
tip of New Britain, had two good airfields 
and a small coastal fort. Its 1,400-man gar- 
rison consisted of the 2/22 Infantry Bat- 
talion, AIF, a 100-man formation of the 
NGVR, a small detachment of the RAAF, 

10 Rpt on Australia for CinC Allied Forces, 14 
Mar 42; OCE SWPA, Draft Engr Rpt 1942, 31 
Dec 42, in AFPAC Engr File; Memo, Long for 
Hist Div, SSUSA, n. d. Jan 48, sub: Answers to 
Questions by the Historical Division, in OCMH 
files; George H. Johnson, The Toughest Fighting 
in the World (New York, 1943), pp. 15, 43, 45; 
Osmar White, Green Armor (New York, 1945), 
pp. 43, 44, 52. 

11 Memo, Long for Hist Div, SSUSA, n. d. Jan 
48; Australian Military Forces, The Battle oj Wau 
(Canberra, 1943), passim; White, Green Armor, 
pp. 89-148. 



6 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



and a few officers of the RAN. In support 
were two discarded 6-inch naval guns, two 
3-inch antiaircraft guns, seven Wirraways, 
and a few Hudsons. 12 

The rest of the Northeast Area was held 
by the 1st Australian Independent Com- 
pany, AIF (less the platoon in the Bulolo 
Valley), a force of about three hundred 
men. Detachments of the company were 
stationed at Lorengau in the Admiralties, 
at Kavieng in New Ireland, and at Buka 
and Tanambogo in the Solomons where 
there were also a few RAAF Catalinas and 
some RAAF personnel. In addition, a part 
of the company's strength was to be found 
at Vila, in the New Hebrides. 13 

Also stationed at strategic points in the 
Northeast Area was a small band of picked 
observers known as the Coast Watchers. 
Usually long-time residents of the area which 
they were to keep under surveillance, they 
had the duty of remaining behind when the 
Japanese came and reporting on their move- 
ments by radio. 14 The Coast Watchers, who 
had long prepared themselves for the task, 
did not have long to wait. 

The Fall of Rabaul 

By the end of December, the Japanese 
had thoroughly reconnoitered the Bismarck 

12 Rpt on Australia for CinC Allied Forces, 14 
Mar. 42; USSBS, The Allied Campaign Against 
Rabaul (Washington, 1946), p. 6; Comdr Eric A. 
Feldt, RAN, The Coast Watchers (Melbourne, 
1947), p. 39; Johnson, The Toughest Fighting in 
the World, p. 28; White, Green Armor, pp. 32-33. 
The prefix "2/" in front of the 22 in 2/22 
Battalion indicates that this was the second time 
that the 22d Battalion was constituted an AIF unit. 

If! Rpt on Australia for CinC Allied Forces, 14 
Mar 42; Memo, G-3 SWPA for CofS SWPA, 19 
Sep 42, sub: Australian Independent Companies, 
in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Memo, Long for Hist 
Div, SSUSA, n. d. Jan 48; Feldt, The Coast 
Watchers, pp. 31, 35, 47, 53. 

" Feldt, The Coast Watchers, passim. 



Archipelago and the Lae— Salamaua area. 
Beginning on 4 January, four-engine flying 
boats and carrier aircraft bombed Rabaul 
repeatedly, forcing the Hudsons to withdraw 
to Australia. On 20 January all the Wirra- 
ways were shot down in a raid by one hun- 
dred carrier planes. A day later carrier- 
based dive bombers literally blasted both 
coastal guns out of the ground. 15 The stage 
was set for the conquest of Rabaul. 

The Japanese force chosen to take Rabaul 
was the same force that had taken Guam. 
It was to be the main force also in the Japa- 
nese attempt to take Port Moresby. Known 
as the South Seas Detachment, or Nankai 
Shitai, it had been detached on 8 December 
1941 from the year-old 55th Infantry Divi- 
sion, then stationed on the island of Shikoku, 
Japan. The detachment was roughly five 
thousand strong. It consisted of the 144th 
Infantry Regiment and supporting divi- 
sional troops and was under the command 
of Maj. Gen. Tomitaro Horii, an experi- 
enced general officer who had previously 
been in command of the 55th Division In- 
fantry Group, from whose headquarters his 
staff had been drawn. 16 

On 4 January 1942, Imperial General 
Headquarters ordered General Horii, then 
still stationed at Guam, to proceed as soon 



"Statement, Lt Col H. H. Carr, CO 2/22 Bn, 
AIF, 13 Jun 42, in Allied Geographic Section, Ter- 
rain Study No. 22, Area Study of Gazelle Penin- 
sula and Rabaul, App A-l, pp. 50, 51; USSBS, 
The Allied Campaign Against Rabaul, p. 6; Feldt, 
The Coast Watchers, pp. 39-42; White, Green 
Armor, pp. 33-34. 

"1st Demob Bur, Hist Sec G-2, GHQ FEG, 
South Seas Det Opns 1941-42, Japanese Studies 
in World War II, No. 55, pp. 1-3; 1st Demob Bur, 
Hist Sec G-2, GHQ FEC, Central Pacific Opns I, 
Japanese Studies in World War II, No. 36, pp. 1, 2. 
Both in OCMH files. SEATIC, Hist Bui No. 243, 
Hist of the Japanese 28th Army, 1 Oct 46; ATIS 
SWPA, Biographical Sketch, Gen Tomitaro Horii, 
27 Aug 42. Both in ACofS G-2 WDGS Files. 



THE JAPANESE THREATEN AUSTRALIA 



7 



as possible with the capture of Rabaul. The 
commander in chief of the 4th Fleet, Vice 
Adm, Shigeyoshi Inouye, was ordered to 
support General Horii in the Rabaul opera- 
tion and, simultaneously with the capture 
of Rabaul, to use his naval troops to take 
Kavieng. On 8 January (after having in 
the meantime flown to Truk and concluded 
an agreement with Admiral Inouye as to 
the fleet's part in the operation), General 
Horii issued orders for the capture of 
Rabaul. D Day was to be 23 January, and 
the landings were to begin at approximately 
0100. 

The South Seas Detachment left Guam 
for Rabaul on 16 January. The transports 
were escorted by units of the 4th Fleet, and 
by the two fast carriers, Kaga and Akagi, 
detached for the operation from Admiral 
Chuichi Nagumo's Special Striking Force, 
the same carrier force that had attacked 
Pearl Harbor. The convoy was joined off 
Truk by the naval task force which was to 
take Kavieng, and the combined force 
headed from Truk directly for the Bis- 
marcks. 17 

The naval landing forces detailed to take 
Kavieng and points in its immediate vicinity 
met with no opposition. The small Kavieng 
garrison, which sought at the last moment 
to escape in a schooner, was captured intact 



17 Walton L. Robinson, "AKAGI, Famous Japa- 
nese Carrier," in United States Naval Institute Pro- 
ceedings, May 1 948, p. 581 ; South Seas Dei Opns, 
pp. 3, 5, 6; 1st Demob Bur, Hist Sec G-2, GHQ 
FEC, South Seas Det Opns, 2d ed., Japanese 
Studies in World War II, No. 109, pp. 4-6, in 
OCMH files; SEATIC, Hist 28th Army; USSBS, 
The Allied Campaign Against Rabaul, pp. 6, 83, 
114; Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United 
States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. Ill, 
The Rising Sun in the Pacific (Boston, 1948), pp. 
259-60. 



when the vessel came under the guns of a 
Japanese destroyer. 18 

The main body of the invasion convoy 
arrived off Rabaul on the night of 22-23 
January and, a few minutes after midnight, 
began landing at Karavia and Simpson 
Harbor. Landings at Raluana Point and 
Vulcan Island followed. The Australians, 
who had only mortars, machine guns, and 
rifles, resisted stoutly from prepared posi- 
tions and, though almost completely sur- 
rounded, continued to fight through the 
night and early morning: By 1000 the situa- 
tion was seen to be hopeless, and the order 
was given to withdraw. Some of the Aus- 
tralian troops held their positions and 
fought to the death ; the rest took to the hills 
with Japanese patrols in pursuit. Many 
of the fleeing Australians were caught and 
massacred, but four hundred of them man- 
aged to elude the Japanese and, after a har- 
rowing march that tested their every ounce 
of endurance, reached the south and north 
coasts of New Britain more dead than alive. 
There other Australians, who had reached 
the scene from New Guinea, searched them 
out and took them to safety in small boats. 19 

With the fall of Rabaul, the forward de- 
fense of the Northeast Area crumbled. All 
that was left of it was the garrison at Port 
Moresby, the troops in the Bulolo Valley, 
and a handful of commandos in the Ad- 
miralties and the Solomons who were pre- 
pared to leave or "go bush" at a moment's 
notice. 

The damage had been done. The Japa- 
nese were now in position to move at a 

18 Msg, U. S. Mil Attache, Melbourne, to Gen 
Marshall, No, 46, CM-IN 53, 26 Jan 42; Feldt. 
The Coast Watchers, pp. 44-45. 

18 Statement, Col Carr, 13 Jun 42; South Seas 
Det Opns, pp. 7, 8; South Seas Det Opns, 2d ed., 
pp. 6—8; USSBS, The Allied Campaign Against 
Rabaul, pp. 6, 83, 114; Feldt, The Coast Watchers, 
pp. 42-43, 54-65; White, Green Armor, pp. 32-42. 



8 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



bound into North East New Guinea and the 
Solomons. Port Moresby and the Allied 
communications line to Australia, three of 
whose main bases — New Caledonia, Fiji, 
and Samoa — were within striking distance 
of the southern Solomons, were in danger. 

The Collapse of the ABDA Area 

The Combined Chiefs of Staff, aware by 
this time of Australia's perilous position, 
began making the best provision they could 
to strengthen its defenses. On 24 January 
at the request of the Australian Prime Min- 
ister, Mr. John Curtin, they ordered that 
Darwin and its environs be incorporated in 
the ABDA Area; five days later they took 
their first measures in defense of Port 
Moresby and Australia's vital east coast. 
To meet Mr. Curtin's insistent demand for 
fighter planes for Port Moresby, the Com- 
bined Chiefs gave General Wavell the al- 
ternatives of either providing the place with 
fighter aircraft or taking over its defense 
himself. Then, in a measure designed to 
throw a protecting naval cordon around 
Port Moresby and the east coast, they estab- 
lished the ANZAC Area, a new strategic 
command covering principally the ocean 
areas to the east and northeast of Australia, 
in which a combined Australian-American 
force, ANZAC Force, was to operate with 
the support of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. 2 " 

ANZAC Force — the Australian cruisers 
Australia, Canberra, and Hobart, the U.S. 
cruiser Chicago, four destroyers, and a few 



" CCS 8, Inclusion of Port Darwin in the ABDA 
Area, 24 Jan 42; CCS 15, Institution of the ANZAC 
Area, 24 Jan 42. Both in ABC 323.31 (1-29-42), 
Sec la. Msg, CCS to ABDACOM, No. 1231, CM- 
IN 25, 29 Jan 42. 



corvettes — under command of Vice Adm. 
Herbert F. Leary, USN, was in operation 
by 7 February. To assist him in the dis- 
charge of his mission, Admiral Leary was 
assigned a squadron of B-17's from Ha- 
waii. The bombers reached Townsville, 
Australia, on 17-18 February and several 
days later bombed Rabaul, the first U.S. 
bombers to do so. 21 

But if Port Moresby now had a modicum 
of protection from the sea, its garrison con- 
tinued as before without fighter planes. The 
direction from the Combined Chiefs to the 
contrary, General Wavell was able neither 
to provide it with aircraft nor to take over 
its defense. 22 Indeed, so badly had things 
gone in Wavell's area that he soon found 
himself unable to hold the Barrier with the 
means at hand. 

The strong U.S. air force which was to 
have retrieved the tactical situation on the 
Barrier failed to reach Java in time. Of some 
260 fighter planes allotted to the project, 
only thirty-six actually reached Java. While 
forty-nine heavy bombers got there, a por- 
tion arrived too late to affect the issue, and 
the rest, because of a critical lack of fighter 
protection, antiaircraft, and maintenance 
personnel, were soon reduced to a state ap- 
proaching impotence. By the third week in 
February the ABDA Air Force (which had 



21 Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen Brett, No. 166, 20 
Feb 42, copy in AG 381 (11-27-41), Sec 2c; Hist 
19th Bomb Gp (H), 8 Dec 41-31 Dec 41; AAF, 
The AAF in Australia to the Summer of 1942. Both 
in USAF Hist Off. Morison, The Rising Sun in the 
Pacific, p. 261. 

° Msg, Gen Wavell to CCS, ABDA No. 00647, 
1 Feb 42 ; Msg, CCS to Gen Marshall, DBA No. 8, 
3 Feb 42. Both in ABDACOM Msg File, OPD Exec 
File. Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen Wavell, No. 85, 
CM-IN 18, 6 Feb 42; Msg, COMANZACFOR to 
COMINCH, n.n., CM-IN 96, 13 Feb 42. 



THE JAPANESE THREATEN AUSTRALIA 



9 



never been able to put more than fifteen 
heavy bombers in the air at any one time) 
had, in all, ten heavy bombers, seven dive 
bombers, and thirteen fighter planes in op- 
erative condition, 23 

Malaya, against which the Japanese mar- 
shaled their strongest force, was the first to 
go. On 15 February the Malay Campaign 
came to an end with the surrender of Singa- 
pore. More than 64,000 troops (15,375 of 
them Australians), their guns, transport, 
and equipment were surrendered that day 
to the Japanese, in what Mr. Churchill has 
called "the worst disaster and greatest ca- 
pitulation of British History." 24 

The Japanese by this time had invaded 
Borneo and the Celebes, taken Amboina, 
and landed in Sumatra. Now they could 
concentrate on the reduction of the Indies. 
On 1 9 February they bombed Darwin into 
rubble, and the next day began landing on 
Timor, Darwin's closest neighbor in the In- 
dies. 25 Opposition on the island was quickly 
overcome, except for an Australian inde- 
pendent company in the hills of Portuguese 
Timor, most of whose men were out of reach 
of the Japanese when the landings began. 
Swollen by fugitives from the fighting else- 
where on the island, the company was to 
operate guerrilla-fashion from the hills for 
more than a year thereafter, scourging the 
Japanese garrison with hit-and-run raids, 



" Wesley F. Craven and James L. Gate, eds., The 
Army Air Forces in World War II: Vol. I, Plans 
and Early Operations January 1939 to August 1942 
(Chicago, 1948), p. 400; AAF, The AAF in the 
War Against Japan 1941-1942, pp. 52, 53, 57. 

14 WD, The World at War (Washington, 1945), 
p. 123; Hugh Buggy, Pacific Victory (Melbourne, 
1945), pp. 60, 61, 63; Churchill, The Hinge of 
Fate, p. 92. 

15 WD, The World at War, p. 123; Buggy, Pacific 
Victory, pp, 51,52, 111-16. 



but scarcely threatening its control of the 
island. 26 

The Barrier was now completely 
breached. With no further reason for 
being, ABDACOM was dissolved on 25 
February. General Wavell returned at once 
to India, and General Brett to Australia, 
where each resumed his former command. 27 
The defense of Java fell to the Dutch, who, 
disregarding the odds, chose to fight on, 
though the struggle by this time was clearly 
hopeless and the early fall of the island was 
a foregone conclusion. 

With the Japanese about to overrun the 
Indies, northwest Australia, and especially 
the Darwin area, lay open to invasion. But 
whether the Japanese would find it profit- 
able to stage an invasion there was another 
matter. The area, mostly desert and very 
sparsely settled, possessed only the most 



" Memo, Australian Dept of External Affairs for 
the Minister, 30 Aug 42, sub: Summary Report on 
Portuguese Timor during the period December 1941 
to June 1942, by Mr. David Ross, Australian Consul 
at Dili, who arrived in Darwin from Timor on 10 
July 1942, copy in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Buggy, 
Pacific Victory, pp. 51-59. 

21 Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, No. 
1083, 24 Feb 42; Msg, Gen Wavell to Gen Mac- 
Arthur, No. 1088, 25 Feb 42. Both in AG 381, Sec 
2c. Despatch Supreme Commander ABDA Area 
(London, 1948), p. 16; Gen Barnes, Rpt of Orgn 
and Activities, USAFIA. Upon General Brett's re- 
sumption of command, General Barnes, who since 
25 January had served as Commanding General, 
USAFIA, became Deputy Commander. Col. Ste- 
phen J. Chamberlin, who had served as chief of 
staff under Barnes since the latter's assumption of 
command, continued as chief of staff under General 
Brett. Barnes, who had reached Australia on 22 
December in the Pensacola convoy as a brigadier 
general, had also served briefly as commanding 
general of the predecessor command, USFIA. Col- 
onel Chamberlin, who had reached Australia by air 
on 9 January directly from Washington, had for a 
time been its G-4. 



10 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



tenuous of communications and, by the only 
available road, was more than a thousand 
miles from Australia's developed and inhab- 
ited areas on the other side of the continent. 
Even though the Japanese could, if they 
wished, take Darwin, it was clear that they 
would have to think long and carefully be- 
fore they undertook operations in Austra- 
lia's parched and inhospitable Northern 
Territory. 

The Occupation of Lae and Salamaua 

Things had gone well for the enemy. He 
had thus far triumphed everywhere and was 
now ready for his first move onto the New 
Guinea mainland. On 2 February Imperial 
General Headquarters ordered the 4th Fleet 
and the South Seas Detachment to take Lae 
and Salamaua, and at the proper time Port 
Moresby. Tulagi in the southern Solomons 
was also to be occupied, on a date as yet un- 
specified, in order, as the instructions put it, 
"to bring further pressure on Australia." 28 

On 16 February, after some preliminary 
discussions, General Horii and Admiral 
Inouye concluded an agreement for joint 
operations against Lae and Salamaua, under 
the terms of which Navy troops were to take 
Lae and Army troops Salamaua. The land- 
ings were to be made before the end of the 
month, and the Navy was to supply the 
permanent garrison for both points when 
their seizure had been completed. 29 

The landings were delayed. The U.S. air- 
craft carrier Lexington and a protecting 
force of four heavy cruisers and ten destroy- 
ers had moved into the area on 20 February 
with orders to break up the gathering Japa- 



28 South Seas Det Opns, pp. 8-9. 
2 " Army and Navy Agreement, 16 Feb 42, quoted 
in South Seas Det Opns, p. 9. 



nese concentrations at Rabaul in concert 
with the ANZAC B-17's at Townsville. 
Japanese reconnaissance detected the Lex- 
ington force while it was still some 350 miles 
from Rabaul. After a running fight which 
cost the Japanese eighteen bombers, the car- 
rier force ran short of oil and withdrew. The 
clash with the Lexington force upset the 
Japanese timetable for the Lae-Salamaua 
operation, which, as a result, was postponed 
to 8 March. 30 

The forces chosen to make the landings 
were the 2d Battalion, 144th Infantry, a 
unit of the South Seas Detachment which 
was to take Salamaua, a battalion of the 
Maizuru 2d Special Naval Landing Force 
accompanied by a naval construction unit 
of 400 men, and a naval base unit about 
1 ,500 strong which with the Maizuru troops 
was to constitute the garrison force. The 
144th Infantry troops would return to Ra- 
baul as soon as the area was secured. 31 

The landings were preceded by heavy 
air attacks on Lae, Salamaua, Wau, Bulolo, 
and Port Moresby, beginning 2 March. The 
invasion convoy of three cruisers, eight de- 
stroyers, a seaplane tender, and several 
transports and cargo ships left Rabaul on 
the night of 5 March and made for New 
Guinea along the south coast of New Brit- 



30 ONI, Early Raids in the Pacific Ocean, pp. 35, 
38, 40, copy in OCMH files; South Seas Det Opns, 
pp. 9, 10. 

M South Seas Det Opns, pp. 10, 11; 1st Demob 
Bur, G-2 Hist Sec, GHQ FEC, Naval Account, 
Japanese Invasion Eastern New Guinea, Japanese 
Studies in World War II, No. 100, pp. 5-9; 1st 
Demob Bur, G-2 Hist Sec, GHQ FEC, 18th Army 
Opns, I, Japanese Studies in World War II, No. 41, 
p. 4; AMF, Interr of Lt Gen Hatazo Adachi, for- 
merly CG 18th Army, and members of his staff, by 
O/C 5th Mil Hist Fid Team, AMF, Rabaul. All in 
OCMH files. ALF, History of the Lae-Salamaua 
Garrison (Japanese), 1 Apr 44, copy in DRB HRS, 
AGO. 



THE JAPANESE THREATEN AUSTRALIA 



11 



ain. Its progress was uncontested, and the 
convoy reached the Huon Gulf shortly be- 
fore midnight, 7 March. At 0100, 8 March, 
the 2d Battalion, 144th Infantry, made an 
unopposed night landing at Salamaua, and 
completed the occupation within the hour. 
At 0230 the Maizuru troops occupied Lae, 
eighteen miles to the north. They too met no 
opposition, for the NGVR, after putting 
both Lae and Salamaua to the torch, with- 
drew its few troops to the Bulolo Valley, 
leaving only light patrols behind. 32 

On 9 March, the day that the Java gar- 
rison finally surrendered, 33 a flight of AN- 
ZAC B— 17's from Townsville tried to pre- 
vent the Japanese from consolidating their 
newly won positions on the Huon Gulf. The 
attack was unsuccessful, but the enemy 
landing forces were not to go unscathed. 
After the abortive attempt of the Lexington 
to raid Rabaul in late February, a larger 
carrier force, comprising the Lexington and 
Yorktown, supported by eight heavy cruisers 
and fourteen destroyers, including cruisers 
and destroyers from ANZAC Force, was as- 
sembled in early March to complete the 
mission. The Japanese landings, which the 
carrier forces might have prevented had they 
struck earlier, caused an immediate change 
in plan. On 10 March 104 carrier planes 



"Msgs, Gen Brett to Gen Marshall, No. 511, 
CM-IN 106, 5 Mar 42, No. 582, GM-IN 9, 9 Mar 
42; South Seas Det Opns, pp. 11, 12; 18th Army 
Opns, I, 4; Naval Account, Japanese Invasion East- 
ern New Guinea, pp. 6-8; ALF, History of the Lae- 
Salamaua Garrison (Japanese) ; AMF, Interr Gen 
Adachi et al.; Feldt, The Coast Watchers, pp. 49, 
52; Johnson, The Toughest Fighting in the World, 
pp. 44-45; White, Green Armor, pp. 64, 66-67. 

31 The garrison included, in addition to some 
5,500 Britishers and 2,500 Australians, the 541 offi- 
cers and men of the 2d Battalion, 131st U. S. Field 
Artillery Regiment, who had reached Soerabaja in 
January. USAFIA Check List, 11 Jul 42, in G-3 
Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Despatch by the Supreme Com- 
mander ABDA Area, p. 16. 



took off from the Lexington and the York- 
town, which were then in the Gulf of Pa- 
pua, flew through a pass in the Owen Stan- 
ley Mountains, and struck at enemy concen- 
trations on the Huon Gulf. 

The bombing was effective, and eight 
ANZAC B-l 7's and six RAAF Hudsons at- 
tacked when the carrier strike was over and 
finished the job. In addition to sinking three 
ships and damaging four, the Allied planes 
killed 130 Japanese troops and wounded 
245. The ANZAC B-l 7's attacked again 
the next day and did heavy damage to build- 
ings, runways, and piers at both Lae and 
Salamaua. 34 

Though the Allied air attacks of 10 and 
1 1 March were unusually successful, they 
did not seriously disturb the efforts of the 
Japanese to establish themselves on the 
Huon Gulf. Work had been begun at once 
to improve the airfields, the first fighter 
planes from Rabaul arriving there 10 
March, just after the main carrier attack. 
By 13 March the area was considered se- 
cure. The Navy troops took over, and the 
2d Battalion, 144th Infantry, left for Ra- 
baul, reaching it safely on the 15th. 33 

The Plan To Isolate Australia 

Allied headquarters during early March 
was alive with conjecture as to what the 



34 Msg, Lt Gen Delos Emmons, CG Haw Dept, to 
Gen Marshall, No. 2740, CM-IN 26, 12 Mar 42; 
Ltr, Gen George C. Kenney to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 
51, in OGMH files; South Seas Det Opns, pp. 11, 
12; Naval Account, Japanese Invasion Eastern New 
Guinea, pp. 6-9; ALF, History of the Lac-Sala- 
maua Garrison (Japanese); ONI, Early Raids in 
the Pacific Ocean, February 1 to March 10, 1942, 
pp. 57-68; Morison, The Rising Sun in the Pacific, 
p. 389. 

x South Seas Det Opns, pp. 11, 12; 18th Army 
Opns, I, 4; Naval Account, Japanese Invasion of 
Eastern New Guinea, pp. 7-9. 



12 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Japanese planned to do next. There were 
profound differences of opinion. General 
Brett (who had resumed command of USA- 
FIA upon his return from the Indies) was 
convinced that the Japanese would invade 
Australia from the northwest, since they had 
large concentrations of troops, planes, and 
naval task forces in the Java area and could, 
if they chose, turn them against Darwin at 
a moment's notice. 36 The Australian Chiefs 
of Staff took a contrary view. In an esti- 
mate of the situation of 5 March, prepared 
by Maj. Gen. Sydney F. Rowell, Deputy 
Chief of the General Staff, they concluded 
that the real threat lay elsewhere. 37 

The Chiefs of Staff reasoned that if the 
Japanese bothered to take Darwin at all 
their aim would be to prevent its use by 
the Allies as a "spring-board" from which 
to attack them, rather than to use it as a 
"stepping stone" for the invasion of Aus- 
tralia. As the Australians saw it, the main 
object of the Japanese was "to cut the air 
and shipping lines of communication be- 
tween United States and Australia with a 
view to preventing the development of Aus- 
tralia as a base for eventual offensive opera- 
tions." They thought that the Japanese 
could best achieve this aim by occupying 
New Caledonia and Fiji. Nevertheless, since 
Port Moresby threatened Japanese lines of 
communication, the Australians believed it 
only natural that the enemy would act to 
eliminate that threat first. They could see no 
reason why the Japanese should not attack 
Port Moresby immediately, provided they 
were prepared to run the risk of meeting 
the naval units of ANZAC Force and units 



38 Msg, Gen Brett to Gen Marshall, No. 490, CM- 
IN 48, 4 Mar 42. 

3T Ltr, Gen Rowell, DCGS AMF, to author, 16 
May 49, in OCMH files. 



available to it from the U.S. Pacific Fleet. 
Should the Japanese choose to attack New 
Caledonia first, their lines of communication 
would be longer, and their risk of encounter- 
ing ANZAC units and reinforcements from 
the Pacific Fleet would be correspondingly 
greater; furthermore, Port Moresby would 
be left as a hostile base on their flank. For 
that reason the Australian Chiefs thought 
Port Moresby would be attacked first, and 
New Caledonia four to six weeks afterward. 38 
Though he did not know it at the time, 
General Rowell had guessed the enemy's in- 
tent exactly. In the orders of 2 February 
for the landings at Lae and Salamaua, Im- 
perial General Headquarters had spoken of 
moves against Port Moresby and Tulagi but 
had issued no specific orders pertaining to 
those operations. On 9 March the 4th Fleet, 
in a companion move to the landings on the 
Huon Gulf, sent a landing party to Buka, 
in the northern Solomons; 39 on the 15th the 
Army and Navy Sections of Imperial Gen- 
eral Headquarters met to decide on some 
definitive line of action with regard to 
Australia. 

The representatives of the Navy Section 
pointed to an ominous increase in air and 
sea activity between the United States and 
Australia as evidence that Australia was to 
be used as a base for counterattacks against 
them. They urged therefore that Australia 
be seized whatever the cost. The representa- 
tives of the Army Section, though equally 
perturbed by the prospect that Australia 
might be used as a base from which attacks 



38 Appreciation of the Australian Chiefs of Staff, 
5 Mar 42, sub: Probable Immediate Japanese Moves 
in Proposed ANZAC Area, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA. 

3 »Ltr, Maj Gen Charles A. Willoughby, ACofS 
G-2, GHQ FEC, to Gen Ward, 12 Apr 51, in 
OCMH files; South Seas Del Opns, p. 8; Feldt, 
The Coast Watchers, p. 108. 



THE JAPANESE THREATEN AUSTRALIA 



13 



would be launched against them, were 
strongly opposed to the invasion. It would 
require ten or more divisions to take and 
hold Australia, they pointed out, and they 
did not have at the time "the munitions, 
the reinforcements, or the ships," for such 
an operation. The Army gained its point. 
Instead of approving an operation against 
the Australian mainland, the Japanese 
agreed to seize Port Moresby as planned 
and then, with the parallel occupation of 
the southern Solomons, "to isolate Aus- 
tralia" by seizing Fiji, Samoa, and New 
Caledonia. 40 

The plan said nothing about invading 
Australia; it did not have to. If everything 
went well and all objectives were taken, 
there would be time enough to begin plan- 
ning for the invasion of the Australian main- 
land. Meanwhile, it would be possible to 
squeeze Australia and render it harmless 
without invasion and at much less cost. 

It was clear from the circumstances that 
the Japanese had not given up the idea of 
invading Australia. They had merely laid 
it aside in favor of measures that, if success- 
ful, would make invasion — in the event they 



40 1st Demob Bur, G-2 Hist Sec, GHQ FEG, Hist 
Rec Army Section Imperial General Headquarters, 
Japanese Studies in World War II, No. 72, pp. 48, 
50, 51. The following are to the same effect: South 
Seas Det Opns, pp. 12, 14; 18th Army Opns, I, 5, 7. 



found it necessary later on — a compara- 
tively easy matter. The immediate object 
was to isolate Australia, and the plan for 
doing so was ready to go into effect. Japa- 
nese naval aviation was now within 170 
air miles of Port Moresby, close fighter dis- 
tance. The 4th Fleet was spreading rapidly 
through the northern Solomons, with the 
southern Solomons next. The final step, 
after Port Moresby was taken, would be to 
seize New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa, 
thereby severing the line of communications 
between the United States and Australia. 

The Japanese had already taken Singa- 
pore and the Indies and, with General Mac- 
Arthur's main force hopeless and starving 
on Bataan, would soon complete the reduc- 
tion of the Philippines. Their success thus far 
had been astounding, and now after only 
three months of operations they were 
threatening Australia, the last major posi- 
tion still left to the Allies in the southwest 
Pacific. The danger to the Commonwealth 
was immediate. If it was to be organized 
as a base for Allied offensive operations, 
it could not be permitted to succumb to the 
Japanese, whatever their designs upon it. 
The Allied high command, seeing the 
danger, already had under consideration 
measures that sought both to strengthen 
Australia's defense and to organize it for 
future offensive action. 



CHAPTER II 



Preparing the Defense 



The declared policy of the War Depart- 
ment during January and early February on 
troop movements to Australia had been to 
restrict them to air corps, antiaircraft, and 
service troops — to such troops, in short, as 
would be of direct value to the support of air 
operations. This policy had been adopted in 
the hope that, if everything was concen- 
trated on the air build-up of the Indies, it 
might still be possible for General Wavell to 
hold the Barrier. The hope had proved vain. 
By mid-February, the debacle was at hand. 
Not only was the ABDA Area on the point 
of collapse, but Australia itself was in 
danger. Faced with this situation, the War 
Department, in a swift reversal of policy, 
ordered the first U.S. ground forces to 
Australia. 1 

The High Command Acts 
Reinforcing the Australian Base 

The first unit ordered to go was the 41st 
U.S. Infantry Division, then in training at 
Fort Lewis, Washington. On 17 February, 
Gen. George G. Marshall ordered its trans- 
fer to Australia. The main body, less one 
regiment, was to go immediately; the re- 
maining regiment would leave later when 

1 Memo, WPD for TAG, 8 Jan 42, sub: Personnel 
and Supply Policy in Australia, in WPD 4630-28; 
Memo, WPD for ACofS G-3 WDGS, 17 Feb 42, 
sub: Movement of Troops to SUMAC, in WPD 
4630 66. 



additional shipping became available. Upon 
arrival, the division's mission would be to 
protect Australia's ports and air bases and 
to provide garrisons for the defense of its 
eastern and northeastern coasts. 2 

While the War Department was thus pre- 
paring to send U.S. ground troops to Aus- 
tralia for use in its defense, the question 
came up of what to do with the Australian 
corps which was then en route to the South- 
west Pacific from the Middle East. Inas- 
much as it was clear by this time that the 
corps would arrive too late to be of use in 
the defense of the ABDA Area, General 
Wavell proposed on 1 8 February that it be 
diverted to Burma where the enemy was 
advancing unchecked on Rangoon. Presi- 
dent Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill took sub- 
stantially the same position. Pointing out 
that the leading elements of the corps 
(which was then in the Indian Ocean) 
were the only troops that could intervene in 
time to save Burma, each asked Mr. Cur- 
tin on the 20th that he permit the tempo- 
rary diversion to that country's defense of at 
least the leading division. 3 

4 Memo, WPD for ACofS G-3 WDGS, 17 Feb 
42, sub: Movement of Troops to SUMAC; Msg, 
Gen Marshall to Gen Brett, No. 479, 1 Mar 42, in 
AG 381, Sec. 2c. 

3 Msg, Gen Brett to TAG, No. 27, CM-IN 833, 
17 Feb 42; Msg, Mr. Curtin to Mr. Churchill, 21 
Feb 42, in OPD Exec Off File, Bk 4; General Staff, 
India, ABDACOM: An Official Account of Events 
in the Southwest Pacific Command, January-Feb- 
ruary 1942 (New Delhi, 1942), pp. 71-72, 83; 
Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, pp. 155-59. 



PREPARING THE DEFENSE 



15 



Feeling, as he was to put it later, that his 
"primary obligation" was "to save Aus- 
tralia," Mr. Curtin flatly refused to sanc- 
tion the diversion. 4 Moreover, in addition to 
demanding the immediate return to Aus- 
tralia of the 6th and 7th Divisions (the two 
divisions en route) he demanded the return 
of the 9th Division, the one Australian divi- 
sion still in the Middle East. 5 

Little exception could be taken to the 
transfer home of the 6th and 7th Divisions, 
especially since the Australian Government 
agreed to the temporary diversion of two 
brigades of the 6th Division to Ceylon, 
which was then believed to be in imminent 
danger of invasion. The case of the 9th 
Division was another matter. To pull it out 
of the Middle East without replacement 
could conceivably so weaken the British line 
in the western desert that disaster might re- 
sult. The United States, at Mr. Churchill's 
suggestion, therefore offered to send a sec- 
ond division to Australia if the Australian 
Government would temporarily leave the 
9th Division in the Middle East. The Aus- 
tralian Government gave its consent to this 
arrangement, 6 and the 32d U.S. Infantry 
Division, then at Fort Devens, Massachu- 
setts, where it had been preparing for early 
shipment to Northern Ireland, was immedi- 
ately ordered to Australia. 7 The leading ele- 
ments of the AIF began debarking in Aus- 



1 Msg, Curtin to Churchill, 23 Feb 42, quoted in 
Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, pp. 163-64. 

5 Msg, Curtin to Churchill, 21 Feb 42. 

* Ltr, Mr. Churchill to Mr. Roosevelt, No. 37, 4 
Mar 42, in CCS 56, ABC 31 1.5 (1-30-42); CPS 
7th Mtg, 6 Mar 42, in CCS 56/1 ; Msg, Gen Mar- 
shall to CG USAFFE, No. 739, 18 Mar 42, in 
SWPA-MacArthur File, OPD Exec. File; Long, 
Australia in the Second World War, p. 396; 
Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, pp. 163-66, 173, 174. 

7 Memo, Lt Col Henry I. Hodes for Brig Gen 
Robert W. Crawford, 17 Apr 42, in OPD 400 
Australia. 



tralia in mid-March, and with the 41st Di- 
vision due to arrive in April, and the 3 2d 
Division in May, a rapid concentration of 
ground forces in Australia was assured. 8 

The U.S. Air Force in Australia, at low 
ebb after the Indies campaign, was strength- 
ened, and immediate steps were taken to 
bring it up to authorized strength — two 
heavy and two medium bombardment 
groups, one light bombardment group, and 
three pursuit groups. 9 The island bases in 
the South Pacific were secured. By early 
February there were garrisons at Palmyra, 
Christmas Island, Canton Island, Bora 
Bora, Samoa, and the Fiji Islands. On 26 
February the garrison for New Caledonia, 
a force of 17,500 men, reached Australia, 
and on 1 2 March it was redeployed to its 
destination without incident. 10 

As a crowning touch to this defensive de- 
ployment, new bases were being established 
at Tongatabu in the Tonga Islands and at 
Efate in the New Hebrides. The establish- 
ment of these bases had more than merely 
a defensive intent. As Admiral Ernest J. 
King pointed out to the President, when 
these and the existing bases at Samoa, the 
Fijis, New Caledonia, and Bora Bora were 
"made reasonably secure, we shall not only 
be able to cover the lines of communication 
to Australia and New Zealand, but given the 
naval forces, air units and amphibious forces, 



"Ibid.; Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen Brett, No. 
626, 10 Mar 42, in WPD 381 Aust (3-8-42). 

* Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen Brett, No. 479, 1 
Mar 42; Msgs, Gen Brett to Gen Marshall, No. 490, 
CM-IN 48, 4 Mar 42, No. 505, CM-IN 99, 5 Mar 
42. The original allotment had been four, not three, 
pursuit groups, but an undertaking by the United 
States to maintain one Australian pursuit group at 
full strength had cut down U.S. pursuit strength by 
one group. 

10 Msg, Gen Marshall to CG USAFFE, No. 1024, 
8 Feb 42; Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen Brett, No, 
351, 18 Feb 42. Both in AG 381, Sec. 2c. 



16 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



we can drive northwestward from the New 
Hebrides into the Solomons and the Bis- 
marck Archipelago after the same fashion 
of step by step advances that the Japanese 
used in the South China Sea." 11 

Reorganizing the Pacific Theater 

These reinforcing moves were accom- 
panied by a reorganization of the Pacific 
Theater to fill the void left by the collapse 
of ABDACOM. After sounding out the 
British and finding them agreeable, the 
President proposed on 9 March that the 
world be divided into spheres or areas of 
strategic responsibility and that the United 
States, as the power best fitted to do so, 
assume responsibility for operations in the 
Pacific. 1 ' 

With British approval of the plan a fore- 
gone conclusion, the Joint Chiefs had mean- 
while been considering how the Pacific The- 
ater was to be organized. They had heard 
from the Australian and New Zealand Gov- 
ernments in connection with the matter on 
the 8th. After a four-day conference at Mel- 
bourne, attended by their Chiefs of Staff, the 
responsible ministers, and General Brett, the 
Australian and New Zealand Governments 
had agreed that the new area should have 
an American supreme commander; that it 
should include Australia, New Zealand, 
Timor, Amboina, and New Guinea; and 



11 Memo, Admiral Ernest J. King for the Presi- 
dent, 5 Mar 42, in OPD Exec Off File, Bk 4. 

"Msg, Roosevelt to Churchill, No. 115, 9 Mar 
42, in CCS 56/1 ABC 311.5 (1-30-42). The full 
proposal was that there be three theaters: the Pa- 
cific Theater, the Indian Ocean-Middle East Thea- 
ter, and the European-Atlantic Theater. The Pa- 
cific Theater as a responsibility of the United States 
would be under the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Indian 
Ocean— Middle East Theater would be under the 
British Chiefs of Staff; and the European-Atlantic 
Theater would be a joint responsibility. 



that it should be under the strategic direc- 
tion of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. 13 

The Joint Chiefs objected to these pro- 
posals on two main grounds. They had al- 
ready agreed that the Supreme Commander 
would operate directly under them, not the 
Combined Chiefs of Staff; and they did not 
like the idea of having Australia and New 
Zealand in one area, for the reason that the 
two did not constitute a strategic entity. 14 
As Admiral King was to explain the mat- 
ter to the President : 

Marshall and I are in complete agreement 
on subdividing the Pacific. We believe Aus- 
tralia proper and the New Zealand line of 
communication area are two strategic entities. 
The defense of Australia is primarily a land- 
air problem for which the best possible naval 
support is a fleet free to maneuver without 
restrictions imposed by local conditions. New 
Zealand, on the other hand, is the key point 
for Pacific lines of communication which is a 
naval responsibility. New Zealand has no rela- 
tion to the defense of Australia in these cir- 
cumstances. 15 

By the following day, 9 March, the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff had worked out the main 
lines that the organization in the Pacific was 
to take. It was decided that the ABDA and 
ANZAC Areas would be abolished; that 



13 Appreciation by the Australian and New Zea- 
land Chiefs of Staff, 26 Feb 42, sub: Future Policy 
and Strategy for Conduct of War in the Pacific — 
Australia and New Zealand, in 314.7 MacArthur 
File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ SWPA; Msgs, Gen Brett 
to Gen Marshall, No. 81, 27 Feb 42, in OPD Exec 
Off File, Bk 4, No. 390, CM-IN 1458, 28 Feb 42, 
No, 467, CM-IN 30, 3 Mar 42 ; Msg, British Chiefs 
of Staff to Joint Staff Mission, No. W-109, 7 Mar 
42, in CCS 57, ABC 323.31, POA (1-29-42), 
Sec. la. 

u JCS 5th Mtg, Item No. 1, 9 Mar 42, sub: Gov- 
ernmental and Strategical Control and Commands 
in the ANZAC Area-Demarcation of New Strate- 
gic Areas in the Japanese War Zone. 

" Memo, Admiral King for the President, 5 Apr 
42, in CCS 57/2, ABC 323.31, POA (1-29-42) 
Sec. 2. 



PREPARING THE DEFENSE 



17 



Australia and New Zealand would be in 
separate areas; and that the Pacific The- 
ater would be divided into two main areas : 
the Pacific Ocean Area, including the 
North, Central, and South Pacific Areas; 
and the Southwest Pacific Area, including 
Australia, the Philippines, a portion of the 
Netherlands Indies, and Australia's land 
and sea approaches, north and northeast. 
Australia, the Netherlands Indies, and the 
United States, as the governments partici- 
pating in defense of the latter area, would 
select a Supreme Commander, whose direc- 
tive would be prepared by the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff in collaboration with the govern- 
ments concerned. 16 

Because the Pacific Ocean Area covered 
principally the ocean areas already under 
command of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 
Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific 
Fleet, it became obvious that Nimitz would 
be its commander. Nor was the identity of 
the Supreme Commander of the Southwest 
Pacific Area to be long in doubt; he was 
already preparing to leave for Australia. 

General MacArthur's Arrival 

As early as 4 February, General Marshall 
had radioed General MacArthur that, with 
the situation on Bataan what it was, there 
might be more pressing need for his services 
elsewhere, and that there was therefore a 
likelihood that the President might order 



16 JCS 18, Governmental and Strategical Control 
and Command in the ANZAC Area, 8 Mar 42, in 
ABC 323.31, POA (1-22-42), Sec. la; JCS 18/2, 
Creation of Southwest Pacific Area, 9 Mar 42, in 
ABC 323.31, POA (1-29-42), Sec. 2; JCS 5th 
Mtg, 9 Mar 42. In addition to the Southwest Pacific 
Area and the Pacific Ocean Area, the Pacific Thea- 
ter included the Southeast Pacific Area — a broad 
band of ocean facing the western coasts of Central 
and South America, well outside the combat zone. 



his withdrawal with such a purpose in 
view. 17 The orders from the President came 
on 22 February. In them, General Mac- 
Arthur was directed to proceed as quickly 
as possible to Mindanao, and from Mind- 
anao to Australia. "It is the intention of the 
President," the dispatch continued, "to ar- 
range with the Australian and British Gov- 
ernments for their acceptance of you as com- 
mander of the reconstituted ABDA Area." 18 

General MacArthur, fifteen members of 
his staff, two naval officers, his wife and 
child, and the child's nurse left Corregidor 
by motor torpedo boat on 1 1 March, and 
arrived safely at Mindanao two days later. 
To take them the rest of the way, General 
Brett had sent four B-17's to Mindanao — 
"beat-up" veterans of the fighting in Java 
but the best he had. Three of the B-17's 
failed to arrive because of mechanical diffi- 
culties, and the fourth was found to be in 
such poor condition upon arrival that Gen- 
eral Brett had to ask Admiral Leary for the 
loan of three of his comparatively new 
ANZAC B-17's, Leary's bombers reached 
Mindanao on 16 March, picked up their 
passengers, and landed them safely at Dar- 
win the next day. 19 

General Brett, who had been ordered to 
keep MacArthur's coming a matter "of pro- 
found secrecy" until the actual moment of 



"Memo, WPD for Officer in Charge, Code 
Room, 4 Feb 42, WDCSA 370.05 Philippines (3- 
1 7-42 ) , in DRB HRS, AGO. 

18 Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, No. 
1678, 22 Feb 42, WDCSA 370.05 Philippines (3- 
17-42). 

19 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Brett, No. 58, 13 
Mar 42 ; Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 
482, 14 Mar 42; Msgs, Gen Brett to Gen Mac- 
Arthur, No. CG 1179, 14 Mar 42, No. 79, 15 Mar 
42; Msg, Gen Brett to Gen Marshall, No. 736, 17 
Mar 42. All in 384-1, MacArthur File, G-3 Files, 
GHQ SWPA. Lt. Gen. George H. Brett, "The Mac- 
Arthur I Knew," True, October 1947, p. 140. 



18 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



his arrival, 20 at once called Mr. Curtin by 
telephone and told him the news. Then, in 
accordance with prior instructions from the 
President and speaking in the President's 
name, he proposed that the Australian Gov- 
ernment nominate General MacArthur as 
the Supreme Commander of the Southwest 
Pacific Area. It was a matter of regret to 
the President, Mr. Curtin was told, that it 
had not been possible to inform the Aus- 
tralian Government "in advance of General 
MacArthur's pending arrival," but such a 
course had been necessary "because safety 
during the voyage from the Philippines re- 
quired the highest order of secrecy." 21 

Mr. Curtin, who had had no prior inti- 
mation that General MacArthur was com- 
ing, was (as the President reported to Mr. 
Churchill) extremely "enthusiastic" at this 
turn of events and at once nominated Gen- 
eral MacArthur as his government's choice 
for Supreme Commander. 22 

A joint press release was issued on 17 
March at Melbourne and Washington, an- 
nouncing that General MacArthur had ar- 
rived in Australia and would be Supreme 
Commander of the forces there and in the 
Philippines. To forestall Axis propaganda 
which might make capital of General Mac- 
Arthur's departure from the Philippines, the 



x Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen Brett, No. 613, 10 
Mar 42, in 384-1, MacArthur File, G-3 Files, GHQ 
SWPA. 

" Tel Msg, Gen Brett to Mr. Curtin, 17 Mar 42, 
in 384-1, MacArthur File, G-3 Files, GHQ 
SWPA. The message, which had been prepared in 
advance, was read over the phone to Mr. Curtin at 
1615 that day, and a confirmation was sent by mail 
later the same day. 

" Msg, President Roosevelt to Former Naval Per- 
son, 17 Mar 42, in Item No. 10, Exec No. 10, Col 
Galley's File, OPD Exec File; Msg, Gen Brett to 
Gen Marshall, No. 736, 17 Mar 42, in 384-1, 
MacArthur File, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 



release at Washington contained the addi- 
tional statement (later cleared with the Aus- 
tralians) that his arrival had been "in ac- 
cordance with the request of the Australian 
Government." 23 

A great feeling of relief swept the Aus- 
tralian people when they learned that Gen- 
eral MacArthur had arrived to take charge 
of their country's defense. The Australians 
had good cause to be enthusiastic over Mac- 
Arthur's coming. One of the most renowned 
soldiers of his time, a divisional commander 
in World War I, a former Chief of Staff 
of the United States Army, a field marshal 
in the Philippine Army, and, as Command- 
ing General of the United States Army 
Forces in the Far East, the leader of the 
heroic defense of the Philippines, MacAr- 
thur had shown himself to be possessed of 
exceptional gifts as a commander. There was 
every reason to believe that Australia's de- 
fense would be safe in his hands. 

The Interim Period 

The Initial Problems 

On 18 March, the day after his arrival 
in Australia, General MacArthur, who was 
then still operating as Commanding Gen- 
eral, United States Army Forces in the Far 
East, was told by General Marshall that in 
accordance with the ABDA precedent he 
would as Supreme Commander be ineligible 
to command a national force. General Brett 
would therefore have to continue tempora- 
rily at least, as commander of USAFIA, 



23 WPD Press Release, 1 7 Mar 42, copy in OCMH 
files: Msg, President Roosevelt to FoTmer Naval 
Person, 17 Mar 42; Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen 
Brett, No. 716, 17 Mar 42. Both in Item No. 10, 
Exec No. 10, Col Gailey's File, OPD Exec File. 



PREPARING THE DEFENSE 



19 




GENERAL MacARTHUR ARRIV- 
ING IN SYDNEY is met by the Aus- 
tralian Prime Minister, Mr. Curiin. 



chough it was intended that he would ulti- 
mately command the combined air forces 
of the area; Admiral Leary, the naval 
forces; and an Australian, the ground 
forces/' 

Three days later, with the approval of the 
Australians, General MacArthur, and the 
War Department, General Brett became 
Allied Air Commander, with Maj. Gen. 
Julian F. Barnes, Deputy Commander of 
USAFIA, slated to take Brett's place as its 



24 Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, Mel- 
bourne, No. 79, 18 Mar 42, copy in OPD Exec Off 
File, Bk 4. 



commander. 25 This at once brought up the 
problem of the command of the American 
ground forces. General MacArthur pro- 
posed that this command go to General 
Barnes when he became commander of 
USAFIA. General Marshall strongly op- 
posed the suggestion and pointed out that, 
with the bulk of the ground forces in the 
area Australian, both the American and 
Australian ground forces should be under 
an Australian commander, "in accordance 
with the policy developed for combined 
commands." 2fi 

Acting on this suggestion, General Mac- 
Arthur at once worked out the ground force 
organization which was subsequently 
adopted. As outlined to General Marshall 
on 24 March, its basic feature was that all 
ground combat forces, Australian and 
American, would be under command of 
"the appropriate Australian general." The 
Australian and American ground forces 
would, however, continue as before with 
separate service organizations. The existing 
Australian supply organization would con- 
tinue to operate through established Aus- 
tralian channels while USAFIA, its Amer- 
ican counterpart, would have only supply 
and administrative functions, and its com- 
mander, General Barnes, would operate, as 
General MacArthur put it, "under policies 
established by me." In this way, General 
MacArthur felt, he would "free the combat 



Ltr, Mr. Gurtin to Gen Brett, 17 Mar 42, in 
314.7 MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ SWPA. 
Msg, Gen Brett to Gen Marshall, No. 792, 21 Mar 
42 ; Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, No-. 3, 
21 Mar 42. Both in SWPA-MacArthur File, OPD 
Exec File. 

2e Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 3, 
21 Mar 42 ; Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, 
No. 810, 22 Mar 42. Both in SWPA-MacArthur 
File, OPD Exec File. 



20 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



echelons of all administrative, supply, and 
political considerations, permitting uninter- 
rupted concentration on combat." 27 

Since General MacArthur was not at the 
time Supreme Commander of the South- 
west Pacific Area and could not be until the 
area was formally established and he as- 
sumed command, it became necessary that 
he act in the interim as if he had already 
become Supreme Commander. With the 
good will and enthusiastic support of the 
Australians, the transition was successfully 
negotiated. By the end of the month, Gen- 
eral MacArthur was able to report that he 
was enjoying extremely cordial relations 
with the Australian authorities, that all his 
suggestions were being adopted without 
reservation, and that every possible step 
within the means available was being taken 
"to place the area in a posture of secure 
defense." 28 

The Joint Directives of 30 March 

On 18 March, Prime Minister Churchill 
replied favorably to the President's proposal 
of nine days before that the world be divided 
into areas of strategic responsibility, with the 
United States responsible for the conduct of 
the war in the Pacific. 29 On 24 March, the 
Combined Chiefs of Staff formally estab- 
lished the Pacific Theater as an area of U.S. 
responsibility. 30 By 30 March the directives 



* Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 19, 
24 Mar 42, copy in SWPA-Mac Arthur File, OPD 
Exec file. 

28 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 56, 
CM-IN 0013, 1 Apr 42. 

K Msg, Prime Minister Churchill to President 
Roosevelt, No. 46, 18 Mar 42, in JCS 19/1, ABC 
271 (3-5-42). 

30 CCS 57/2, Strategic Responsibility of the U.K. 
and the U.S., 24 Mar 42, in ABC 323.31, POA 
(1-29-42), Sec. 2. 



to General MacArthur as Supreme Com- 
mander of the Southwest Pacific Area, and 
to Admiral Nimitz as Commander in Chief, 
Pacific Ocean Area, were ready, and the 
President approved them the next day. 31 

The Southwest Pacific Area, as set forth 
in the directive to General MacArthur, in- 
cluded Australia, the Philippines, New 
Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the 
Solomons, and, except for Sumatra, the 
Netherlands Indies. As Supreme Com- 
mander, General MacArthur was to hold 
Australia as a base for future offensive ac- 
tion against Japan; sustain the U.S. position 
in the Philippines; support the operations 
of friendly forces in the Pacific Ocean Area 
and Indian Ocean; and "prepare to take 
the initiative." 32 

The Pacific Ocean Area, Admiral 
Nimitz's command, was to be divided into 
three component parts : the Central Pacific, 
North Pacific, and South Pacific Areas. The 
first two would be under Admiral Nimitz's 
direct command ; the third, the South Pacific 
Area, the area immediately adjoining the 
Southwest Pacific, 33 would be under a naval 
officer of flag rank, who would be appointed 
by Nimitz and operate under his direction. 



31 JCS Directive to the Supreme Commander in 
the Southwest Pacific Area, 30 Mar 42; JCS Di- 
rective to the CinC Pacific Ocean Area, 30 Mar 
42. Both in CCS 57/1. Memo, Brig Gen W. B. 
Smith, U.S. Seev CCS, for Gen Marshall and 
Admiral King, 1 Apr 42, in ABC 323.31, POA 
(1-29-42), Sec. 2. 

32 JCS Directive to the Supreme Commander, 
Southwest Pacific Area, 30 Mar 42. 

33 It should be noted that the South Pacific Area 
included everything south of the equator between 
160° east longitude and 110° west longitude, except 
for the Solomon Islands, which were then in the 
Southwest Pacific Area, and Canton Island, which 
was in the Central Pacific Area. Fiji, Samoa, New 
Caledonia, and New Zealand were thus in the South 
Pacific Area, as were the New Hebrides and the 
Santa Cruz Islands. 




General Orders ) 
No. 1 ) 



Melbourne, Vic. 
10 April, 191*2. 



1. By agreement among the Governments of Australia, the United Kingdom, 
the Netherlands and the United States there has been constituted, effective 
li+00 GMT, 18 April, 191+2, the Southwest Pacific Area, with boundaries as 
defined in Annex 1. 



2. By virtue of the same authority, the undersigned hereby assume* 
coma and. 

3. The following commands are hereby created with commanders as indie 
oompesed of forces assigned to the Southwest Pacific Area by the respeotive 
Governments, and assigned to specific commands by this headquarters, initial 
as provided In Annex 1. 

a. Allied Land Forces, Southwest Pacific Area. 

Commanden General Sir THOMAS BLMJEY, K.C.B., 
C.H.G., D.3.O., Australian Army. 

h Allled Air Forces, Southwest Pacific Area. 

Commander: Lieutenant General GEORGE H. BRETT, 
United States Army. 

£. Allied Naval Foroes, Southwest Pacific Area, 

Coraander; Vloe Admiral HERBERT F. LEARY, 
United States Navy. 

d. United States Forces in the Philippines. 



Commanden Lieutenant General JONATHAN M. 

WAINWRIGHT, United States Amy. 

e. United States Army Forces in Australia. 

Commander! liajcr General JULIAN F. BARNES, 
United States Army. 




22 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



As CINCPOA, Admiral Nimitz was to hold 
the island positions between the United 
States and the Southwest Pacific Area; sup- 
port the operations of the Southwest Pacific 
Area; protect essential sea and air com- 
munications in his area; and "prepare for 
the execution of major amphibious offen- 
sives against positions held by Japan, the 
initial offensives to be launched from the 
South Pacific Area and the Southwest Pa- 
cific Area." 34 

The Assumption of Command 

Approval of General Mac Arthur's direc- 
tive by the participating governments was 
delayed. The Australian Government — the 
last to give its approval — only did so on 14 
April, after certain questions relating to the 
movement of its troops out of Australian ter- 
ritory, and the right of its local commanders 
to communicate freely with their govern- 
ment, had been settled to its satisfaction. 35 
On 18 April, a month almost to the day 
after his arrival in Australia, General Mac- 
Arthur assumed command of the Southwest 
Pacific Area. 3 " All combat echelons of the 
Australian forces, naval, ground, and air, 
were assigned to his command as of that 
date, and the Australian commanders con- 
cerned were notified that orders issued by 
him as Supreme Commander Southwest 
Pacific Area were to be considered "as 



"JCS Directive to the CinC Pacific Ocean Area, 
30 Mar 42. 

"° Msg, Mr. Curtin to Dr. H. V. Evatt, No. 31, 7 
Apr 42 ; Ltr, Admiral King to Dr. Evatt, 1 Apr 42 ; 
Ltr, Dr. Evatt to Admiral King, 14 Apr 42. All in 
ABC 323.31 POA (1-29-42), Sec. 2. Msg, Gen 
Marshall to Gen MacArthur, 14 Apr 42, in SWPA- 
MacArthur File, OPD Exec File. 

GHQ SWPA GO No. 1, 18 Apr 42. 



emanating from the Commonwealth 
Government." 37 

General MacArthur, who chose to desig- 
nate himself as Commander in Chief South- 
west Pacific Area rather than as Supreme 
Commander, 38 formally established the Al- 
lied Land Forces, Allied Air Forces, and 
Allied Naval Forces the same day. General 
Sir Thomas Blarney, Commander in Chief. 
Australian Military Forces, who had just ar- 
rived from the Middle East, became Com- 
mander Allied Land Forces; General Brett 
became commander of the Allied Air 
Forces; and Admiral Leary took over com- 
mand of the Allied Naval Forces. Also in- 
corporated into the command structure of 
the area that day were two previously estab- 
lished U.S. commands — the United States 
Army Forces in Australia, under General 
Barnes, and the United States Army Forces 
in the Philippines, under Lt. Gen. Jonathan 
M. Wainwright, then only eighteen days 
away from surrender and dissolution. 3 " 

In the matter of his staff, General Mar- 
shall had recommended to General Mac- 
Arthur that all the participating govern- 
ments be represented as had been done in 
the case of ABDACOM. Marshall sug- 
gested to MacArthur that this arrangement 
would be particularly desirable in his area 
since the Supreme Commander of the area, 



37 Ltr, Mr. Curtin, to Gen MacArthur, 17 Apr 
42, in C-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 

3a Ltr, Gen MacArthur to Mr. F. G. Shedden, 
Minister for Defence Coordination, Commonwealth 
of Australia, 13 Apr 42, copy in 314.7, MacArthur 
File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ SWPA. 

3!l GHQ SWPA GO No. 1, 18 Apr 42 ; Msgs, Gen 
MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. AG 381, CM-IN 
5422, 20 Apr 42, No. AG 415, 20 Apr 42, copy in 
SWPA-Mac Arthur File, OPD Exec File, No. AG 
441, CM IN 2601, 25 Apr 42; Allied Air Forces 
GO No. 2, 27 Apr 42. 



PREPARING THE DEFENSE 



23 



his chief of staff, and the air and naval com- 
manders would be Americans, and the Pres- 
ident had stated it as his wish that "a num- 
ber of the higher positions" on the staff go 
to Dutch and Australian officers, and par- 
ticularly to Australians. 40 

The staff of General Headquarters was 
named on 19 April, the day after General 
MacArthur assumed command. Its mem- 
bers were Maj. Gen. Richard K. Suther- 
land, Chief of Staff ; Brig. Gen. Richard J. 
Marshall, Deputy Chief of Staff; Col. 
Charles P. Stivers, G-l ; Col. Charles A. 
Willoughby, G-2; Brig. Gen. Stephen J. 
Chamberlin, G 3; Col. Lester J. Whitlock, 
G-4; Brig. Gen. Spencer B. Akin, Signal 
Officer; Brig. Gen. Hugh J. Casey, Engi- 
neer Officer; Brig. Gen. William F. Mar- 
quat, Antiaircraft Officer; Col. Burdettc M. 
Fitch, Adjutant General; and Col. Le- 
Grande A. Diller, Aide-de-Camp and Pub- 
lic Relations Officer. 11 

General Chamberlin, Colonel Whitlock, 
and Colonel Fitch had served on the staff 
of USAFIA, and the other members of the 
staff had come out of the Philippines with 
General MacArthur and served on his staff 
there. All the heads of staff sections were 
Americans ; such Dutch and Australian offi- 
cers as were assigned to General Headquar- 
ters Southwest Pacific Area served under 
them as members of the staff sections. 

Though General Marshall again pressed 
him on the point, General MacArthur did 
not then or later assign a Dutchman or an 
Australian as a senior member of his staff. 
The reason for his failure to do so, as he 
stated it to General Marshall in June, was 
that there were no "qualified Dutch officers" 
present in Australia, and that the Austra- 



40 Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, No. 
1 1 78, CM OUT 1 495, 9 Apr 42. 

"GHQ SWPA GO No. 2, 19 Apr 42. 



lians, with a rapidly expanding army, did 
not have nearly enough staff officers to meet 
their own needs, let alone to serve on his 
staff. "There is no prospect," he told Mar- 
shall flatly, "of obtaining qualified senior 
staff officers from the Australians." 42 

The Defensive Problem 
General Mac Arthur's Decision 

General MacArthur arrived in Australia 
to find that the Australian Chiefs of Staff, 
feeling that they could not hope to hold 
Port Moresby without proper naval and air 
support, had based their strategy for the 
defense of Australia on continental defense, 
the defense, that is, of the mainland rather 
than of the approaches. They had considered 
the reinforcement of Port Moresby a few 
weeks before and decided that "it was out 
of the question since we have inadequate 
forces for defense of the east coast . . . 
the only area from which reinforcements 
can be drawn." Since to withdraw the gar- 
rison was also out of the question, they con- 
cluded that they would have to hold Port 
Moresby "as long as possible, and exact 
heavy toll from the enemy should he at- 
tack it." 43 

Though they were thus committed to con- 
tinental defense, the Australian Chiefs of 
Staff were well aware of the difficulty of 
attempting to defend a country so vast in 
area and so poor in communications with- 
out adequate naval and air support. "Until 
such time as adequate naval and air forces 
are available," they noted, "it is estimated 



" Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 
AG 994, CM-IN 4634, 15 Jun 42. 

" Appreciation by the [Australian] Chiefs of 
Staff— February 1942, 27 Feb 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA. 



24 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



that it would require a minimum of 25 di- 
visions [to hold Australia] against the scale 
of attack which is possible." "This would 
mean," they added, "that 10 fully equipped 
divisions would have to be supplied by our 
Allies" 44 — an impossible figure, as they well 
knew, since neither the British nor the 
United States between them were in any 
position at the time to supply them with that 
many ground troops. 

In March 1943, a year after his arrival, 
General MacArthur publicly revealed that 
he had no sooner reached Australia than 
he concluded that the key to its defense lay 
not on the mainland but in New Guinea. 
Although his available means were ex- 
tremely meager, 40 he assumed as a matter of 
course that he would be given sufficient 
naval and air support to ensure a successful 
defense of the continent at its approaches, 4 ' 1 
an assumption that the Australian Chiefs 
were then in no position to make, especially 

" Ibid. 

4,1 The order of arrival from the Middle East of 
AIF brigades at Fremantle was as follows : the 25th 
on 4 March, the 21st on 15 March, the 18th on 20 
March (these three units comprising the 7th Aus- 
tralian Infantry Division) : and the 19th Brigade of 
the 6th Australian Infantry Division on 20 March. 
United States troops in Australia numbered less 
than 25,000 — about half of them air force personnel 
and the rest, field artillery, antiaircraft, and service 
troops. The Air Corps had planes enough only for 
one heavy bombardment squadron, one light bom- 
bardment squadron, and six pursuit squadrons. 
Admiral Leary's command consisted of a few cruis- 
ers and destroyers, and the squadron of B-17's 
assigned to him for operations against Rabaul. 
Msgs, Gen Brett to Gen Marshall, No. 510, CM-IN 
115, 8 Mar 42, n. n., GM-IN 108, 12 Mar 42, 
No. 727, CM-IN 59, 17 Mar 42; CPS 9th Mtg, 9 
Mar 42, sub: Defense of Australia, in ABC 381 Aus- 
tralia (11-23-42) ; Msg, COMINCH to COMAN- 
ZACFOR, 11 Mar 42, in OPD Exec Off File, Bk 4; 
Craven and Gate, The Army Air Forces in World 
War II, I, 411. 

16 Ltr, Mr. Curtin to Gen MacArthur, 8 May 42, 
in 314.7 MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ 
SWPA; Frazier Hunt, MacArthur and the War 
Against Japan (New York, 1944], pp. 82, 83. 



after what had happened to their ground 
forces in Malaya, Amboina, and Timor. 

MacArthur's position, as he explained it 
a year after the event, was essentially that 
it was too much to expect that naval and air 
support on a scale sufficient to defend the 
vast reaches of the continent successfully 
either would or could be made available. He 
told Mr. Curtin (who understood it to be 
the main point of difference between him 
and "our Chiefs of Staff earlier apprecia- 
tions" ) that even twenty-five divisions 
would probably be insufficient to hold the 
mainland without such support. 47 He was 
reasonably sure, however, that it could be 
held with such forces as were likely to be 
made available if the main defensive effort 
was made not in Australia itself but in 
New Guinea. The strategic principle as he 
conceived it at the time, and as he stated 
it later on, was that the successful defense 
of Australia required that the battle "be 
waged on outer perimeter territories rather 
than within the territory to be defended." 48 
The fight for Australia, in short, would be 
waged not on the mainland but in New 
Guinea. As events turned out, both the de- 
fense and the offense — when offense became 
possible — were pivoted on Port Moresby. 

That General MacArthur had conceived 
such a strategy upon his arrival was ques- 
tioned by the Australians. Mr. Curtin's 
impression of the matter was, for instance, 
that it was not until some considerable time 
later that MacArthur was able to trans- 
form his strategy "from a defensive one on 

" Ltr, Mr. Curtin to Gen MacArthur, 16 May 
42, in 314.7 MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ 
SWPA. In this letter, Mr. Curtin summarizes for 
General MacArthur and the record his understand- 
ing of a previous conversation with MacArthur. 

44 Ltr, Gen MacArthur to Mr. Curtin, 6 Oct 42, 
in 314.7, MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ 
SWPA. Sec also Hunt, MacArthur and the War 
Against Japan, pp. 82, 83. 



PREPARING THE DEFENSE 



25 



the mainland, to a defense of the mainland 
from the line of the Owen Stanley Range." 
But General MacArthur insisted that he had 
held this view from the start. "It was never 
my intention," he told Mr. Curtin, "to de- 
fend Australia on the mainland of Australia. 
That was the plan when I arrived, but to 
which I never subscribed, and which I im- 
mediately changed to a plan to defend 
Australia in New Guinea." 4i) 

Putting the Strategy into Effect 

On 4 April, the Australian Chiefs of Staff, 
in conjunction with General MacArthur's 
headquarters, prepared a joint estimate of 
the situation. The estimate noted that the 
enemy had virtually undisputed control of 
both sea and air in the South and Southwest 
Pacific and could be expected to undertake 
an offensive in great strength "against Aus- 
tralia's supply line and against Australia 
itself," in the very near future. The one part 
of Australia "essential to the prosecution of 
the war," the estimate continued, was on 
the southeast and east coasts in the general 
area between Melbourne and Brisbane. The 
"critical point" which controlled this area 
was Port Moresby, against which a major 
offensive could be expected almost any time, 
for the enemy was known to be massing 
heavy forces at Rabaul for a possible thrust 
against it. Darwin and Fremantle, isolated 
points on the north and southwest coasts far 
from the vital centers of the country, were 
also open to attack, but their defense pre- 
sented no great problem if they were to be 
suitably reinforced, for their position was 
such that they could be held as outposts. The 

49 Ltr, Gen MacArthur to Mr. Curtin, 6 Nov 43, 
in 314.7, MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ 
SWPA; Ltr, Mr. Curtin to Gen Blarney, 16 Nov 43; 
Ltr, Gen Blarney to Mr. Curtin, 28 Jan 44. Copies 
of both in OCMH files. 



real danger was at Port Moresby. If Port 
Moresby fell to the Japanese, its loss would 
put in immediate jeopardy the safety of 
Australia's "all important area"- — the 
Brisbane— Melbourne coastal belt. 

Such being the case, a maximum effort 
would have to be made to provide addi- 
tional air and sea power for the defense of 
Port Moresby and the other threatened 
areas. A successful defense would require 
several aircraft carriers and at least 675 
land-based aircraft, including seventy B- 
17's. Both staffs were agreed that, if such 
a force was provided, it would be possible 
to defend Australia successfully and ulti- 
mately mount an offensive to the northeast 
of it, aimed at Rabaul. 50 

The means with which to begin putting 
this strategy into effect were at hand. The 
7 th Australian Infantry Division, and Head- 
quarters, 1st Australian Corps, reached 
Adelaide from the Middle East at the end 
of March. The main body of the 41st U.S. 
Infantry Division docked at Melbourne on 
6 April; a few days later, the 32d U.S. In- 
fantry Division and the rest of the 41st 
Division were put on orders for early de- 
parture to Australia. 51 The Air Force was 
brought up to strength during April, except 
for one heavy bombardment group and one 
medium bombardment group, neither of 
which had as yet any planes." 2 Admiral 
Leary's command was substantially rein- 
forced and soon came to include three heavy 
cruisers, three light cruisers, fifteen destroy- 
ers, twenty modern submarines, eleven old 

00 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 70, 
CM-IN 1069, 4 Apr 42. 

51 Prov Opns Rpt, Australian Armv, 3 Apr 42, in 
G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen 
Brett, No. 1167, 7 Apr 42, copy in OPD 320.2, 
Australia; Barnes Rpt. 

"Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 20 Apr 42; G-3 
Opns Rpt, 27 Apr 42. Both in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA. 



26 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



submarines, six or seven sloops, and some 
smaller craft. One of the light cruisers was 
Dutch; two of the heavy cruisers, one of the 
light cruisers, and four of the destroyers were 
Australian ; and one heavy cruiser, two light 
cruisers, eleven destroyers, and all the sub- 
marines were American. 33 

Though the Dutch also provided a fusi- 
lier company and a completely equipped 
medium bombardment squadron (B-25's), 
their greatest contribution was a merchant 
marine, a part of the Koninklijke Paktevaart 
Maatschappij, better known as the K.P.M. 
Line, which had operated a far-flung inter- 
island service in the Netherlands Indies be- 
fore the war. After the fall of Java, most of 
the K.P.M. ships escaped to Australia and 
India. A portion of those which reached 
India were rerouted to Australia. In all, 
twenty-nine ships, displacing from 500 to 
6,000 tons, reached Australia where they 
were to play a major role in the supply and 
reinforcement of the Southwest Pacific 
Area's outlying positions. 51 

The reinforcement of Port Moresby and 
the more isolated garrisons in Australia it- 
self began in early April. The 19th Brigade 
Group and U.S. antiaircraft and engineer 
troops were sent to Darwin; a squadron 
of U.S. heavy bomber planes and a U.S. 
antiaircraft regiment were ordered to the 

" 3 JCS 9th Mtg, 6 Apr 42; Msg, Gen MacArthur 
to Gen Marshall, No. AG 460, CM-IN 6648, 25 
Apr 42; Hist of U.S. Naval Admin in World War 
II, Comdr U.S. Naval Forces Southwest Pacific, 
pp. 7, 8, copy in the Office of Naval History. 

01 Msgs, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 
AG 441, CM-IN 2601, 25 Apr 42, No. AG 506, 
CM-IN 7516, 28 Apr 42; The Koninklijke Pakte- 
vaart Maatschappij (K.P.M. Line) and the War 
in the Southwest Pacific Area, copy in the Office of 
Naval History. The K.P.M. ships, with Dutch 
masters and crews, were under charter to the British 
Ministry of Transport, which had allocated them 
to the U.S. Army. They were thus under direct con- 
trol of USAFIA, rather than (as might be im- 
agined) of Allied Naval Forces. 



Perth-Fremantle area; a U.S. antiaircraft 
regiment and an additional Australian in- 
fantry brigade to Townsville. The rest of 
the U.S. antiaircraft troops were concen- 
trated in the Brisbane area, and the bulk 
of the remaining land forces, including the 
7th Australian Division and the 41st U.S. 
Division, were deployed in the Melbourne- 
Brisbane area. 53 The Air Force concentrated 
most of its striking forces in the Townsville- 
Cloncurry region, where by this time airfields 
(which had been begun in January) were 
ready for their reception. 56 The Allied 
Naval Forces, with the addition of more 
ships, expanded their operations; and the 
submarines began operating against the en- 
emy from Fremantle and Brisbane — the new 
type of submarines from Fremantle, the old 
types from Brisbane. 57 

The reinforcement of Port Moresby was 
no easy matter. Its supply line from Aus- 
tralia across the Gulf of Papua was exposed 
to enemy action. Its port facilities were 
inadequate; its two existing airfields were 
small and poorly built; and, except for one 
field at Horn Island in Torres Strait, there 
were no intermediate air bases between it 
and the concentration area in the Towns- 
ville-Cloncurry region, 700 miles away. 

After a thorough reconnaissance of Port 
Moresby, General Casey, General Mac- 
Arthur's engineer officer, began drawing 
plans for its conversion into a first-class 



J5 Prov Opns Rpt, Australian Army, 3 Apr 42 ; 
Allied Air Forces Opns Rpts, 10 Apr 42. 20 Apr 42; 
G-3 Opns Rpts No. 3, 1 1 Apr 42, No. 5, 12 Apr 42, 
No. 7, 15 Apr 42, No. 10, 17 Apr 42, No. 19, 27 
Apr 42; Opns Rpt USAFIA, 20 Apr 42. All in 
G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 

! " Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 10 Apr 42; G-3 
Opns Rpt No. 35, 13 May 42. Both in G-3 Jnl, 
GHQ SWPA. OCE SWPA, Draft Engr Rpt, 1942 ; 
Hist Base Sec 2, Townsville, in AFPAC Engr File. 

5; JCS 9th Mtg, 6 Apr 42 ; ANF Daily Opns Rpt, 
16 May 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



PREPARING THE DEFENSE 



27 



operational base. The port and the two 
existing airfields were to be improved, and 
three new airfields were to be built in the 
general Port Moresby area. It was also 
planned to improve the existing field at 
Horn Island and to begin the construction 
of new fields northward from Townsville 
along the Cape York Peninsula, principally 
at Mareeba (southwest of Cairns), Cook- 
town, and Coen. When completed, these 
fields would permit the rapid staging of all 
types of aircraft to Port Moresby. They 
would not only make it possible for the Air 
Force to provide cover for Torres Strait and 
the supply line to Port Moresby, but would 
give the Air Force greater flexibility in both 
offensive and defensive operations. 58 

Work began at once on the bases in the 
Cape York Peninsula; and, in late April, 
the first U.S. engineer troops were ordered 
to Port Moresby. The first to go were Com- 
pany E, 43d Engineer Regiment (GS) , and 
two Negro units, the 96th Engineer Bat- 
talion (less two companies) and the Dump 
Truck Section of the 576th Engineer Com- 
pany. The 101st Coast Artillery Battalion 
(AA), the first U.S. antiaircraft unit to be 
ordered to Port Moresby, followed hard on 
their heels and arrived there only a short 
while after.™ Two other moves were to be 

JS Interv with Lt Gen Stephen J. Chamberlin, 14 
Jan 50, in OCMH files; OCE SWPA, Draft Engr 
Rpt, 1942; Hist Base Sec 2, Townsville; Hunt, 
MacArthur and the War Against Japan, pp. 82, 84, 
85, 86. Unless otherwise indicated, all interviews 
were conducted by the author in Washington. 

" Memo, Maj Gen Richard K. Sutherland, CofS, 
for CG USAFIA, 18 Apr 42, sub: Movement of 
Co E, 43d Engrs and the 96th Engr Bri (Cld), less 
two companies, and the attached Dump Truck 
Section of the 576th Engr Co; Memo, Gen Suther- 
land for CG USAFIA, 22 Apr 42, sub: Movement 
of One Separate Battalion Coast Artillery, Auto- 
matic Weapons; G-3 Opns Rpts No. 18, 26 Apr 42, 
No. 19, 27 Apr 42, No. 20, 28 Apr 42. All in G-3 
Jnl, GHQ SWPA. OCE SWPA, Draft Engr Rpt, 
1942. 



made as soon as possible : the troops in the 
Bulolo Valley were to be reinforced with 
an Australian Independent Company, and 
the Port Moresby garrison with an addi- 
tional infantry brigade. 50 

Air activity at Port Moresby, meanwhile, 
had been greatly intensified. By late April, 
B-17's, B-25's, and B-26's were using it 
regularly as a jump-off point for attacks on 
Lae, Salamaua, and Rabaul; and air units 
based there, in addition to Australian 
P-40's, Catalinas, and Hudsons, included 
two American air groups, one equipped with 
A-24's, and the other with P-39's. 61 

A good beginning had been made in the 
defense of Australia and its advance base, 
Port Moresby, but it was only a beginning. 
General MacArthur, who had counted on 
greater support than he was receiving, felt 
very strongly that the allotted means were 
insufficient for the task in hand and began 
at once to press for additional forces. 

The Sufficiency of the Means 
CINCSWPA Asks for More 

General MacArthur was to have no easy 
time in his attempt to secure greater means 
than had already been allotted to his area. 
In late December, the President of the 
United States and the Prime Minister of 
Great Britain, meeting at Washington with 



m NGF OI, No. 7, 23 Apr 42; Ltr, Gen Mac- 
Arthur to Gen Blarney, 1 May 42 ; Ltr, Gen Blarney 
to Gen MacArthur, 2 May 42. All in 385, G-3 
Files, GHQ SWPA. Memo, Gen MacArthur for 
Comdr ALF el al, 13 May 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA. 

" AAF, The AAF in Australia to the Summer of 
1942, pp. 21, 23; Craven and Cate, The Army Air 
Forces in World War II, I, 425. The A-24's, the 
first U. S. planes to be based at Port Moresby, 
reached it in late March. The P-39's arrived in 
late April. 



28 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



their military advisers, had decided that the 
Atlantic-European area would be the de- 
cisive theater of operations. They had also 
agreed as a corollary to that decision that 
until Germany was defeated operations in 
the Pacific would have to be primarily de- 
fensive in nature. 62 On 16 March, the mat- 
ter came up before the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 
After considering a paper submitted to 
them by the Joint Staff Planners listing the 
alternatives open to the United States in its 
conduct of the two-ocean war, the Joint 
Chiefs decided that they could maintain a 
strong defensive in the Pacific with the 
forces already allotted to that theater and 
still build up forces in the United Kingdom 
for an early offensive against Germany. 63 

The decision having been reached, Gen- 
eral Mac Arthur was given prompt intima- 
tion that his means would be limited. On 
18 March, the day after he arrived in Aus- 
tralia, he was advised by General Marshall 
that because of serious shipping shortages 
and critical situations elsewhere it had be- 
come necessary to fix definite limits on 
United States commitments in the South- 
west Pacific. United States ground forces, 
other than field artillery and antiaircraft 
units already in Australia or en route, would 
be limited to the two divisions already al- 
lotted to the Southwest Pacific Area. United 
States air units in Australia would be 
brought up to full strength as soon as pos- 
sible, and MacArthur's lines of communi- 
cation with the United States would be 
secured. Six weeks later, in response to a 
request for an aircraft carrier to increase 
the effectiveness of his naval force, he was 



63 American-British Grand Strategy, ABC 4/CS- 
1, 31 Dec 41, ARCADIA Proceedings, in ABC 337 
ARCADIA (24 Dec 41). 

" 3 JCS6th Mtg, 16 Mar 42. 



told that all the carriers were being em- 
ployed on indispensable tasks." 

General MacArthur did not take this as 
the final word on the subject. Two days 
later, in a meeting with Mr. Curtin, he ex- 
pressed himself as being "bitterly disap- 
pointed" with the meager assistance prom- 
ised him by Washington. After going on to 
say that the forces allotted to him were 
"entirely inadequate" for the performance 
of the tasks imposed upon him by his direc- 
tive, he agreed, upon Mr. Curtin's query, 
that the latter would do well to ask the 
British Prime Minister not only for an air- 
craft carrier, and the temporary diversion 
to Australia of two British divisions then on 
their way to India, but also for a substantial 
increase in the number of British ships allo- 
cated to the United States-Australia run. 
Mr. Curtin communicated these requests 
to Mr. Churchill the next day, stating that 
he was doing so at General MacArthur's 
request. 55 

Surprised that General MacArthur 
should have apparently cut through chan- 
nels in this way, Mr. Churchill passed the 
message on to the President with the remark 
that he was quite unable to meet these de- 
mands. "I should be glad to know," he 



01 Msgs, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, No. 
739, 18 Mar 42, No. 1499, 26 Apr 42, in SWPA- 
MacArthur File, OPD Exec File; Msgs, Gen Mac- 
Arthur to Gen Marshall, No. AG 453, CM-IN 6430, 
24 Apr 42, No. AG 470, CM-IN 6643, 25 Apr 42. 

m Ltr, Mr. Curtin to Gen MacArthur, 28 Apr 42, 
in 314.7, MacArthur File, Rcc Sec Files, GHQ 
SWPA; Msg, Mr. Churchill to Mr. Roosevelt, No. 
73, 29 Apr 42, in OPD Exec Off File. Bk 10; Msg, 
Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, CM-IN 0667, 
3 May 42. General MacArthur's quoted statements 
are from Mr. Curtin's letter to MacArthur, which 
is devoted principally to the text of a cablegram 
which Mr. Curtin sent that day to his Minister for 
External Affairs, Dr. H. V. Evatt, who was then 
in Washington, telling Evatt what MacArthur had 
said in the course of this meeting. 



PREPARING THE DEFENSE 



29 



added, "whether these requirements have 
been approved by you . . and whether 
General Mac Arthur has any authority from 
the United States for taking such a line." " 6 

Taken to task in the matter by General 
Marshall the next day, MacArthur, who 
had just sent Marshall a message complain- 
ing about the general inadequacy of his 
forces, 67 replied on 3 May that he should 
not be held responsible for the use to which 
Mr. Curtin had put his remarks. He had 
made them, he said, at Mr. Curtin's request, 
and purely as he thought for the Austra- 
lian's personal information. His position 
was, MacArthur pointed out, a delicate one. 
Mr. Curtin expected him to advise the Aus- 
tralian Government on all matters relating 
to Australia's defense, and if he was to con- 
tinue as Supreme Commander, and hold 
the confidence of the Australian Govern- 
ment, he had no choice but to do so. The 
preoccupation of the Australian Govern- 
ment with the security of its country was 
well known. The difficulty was that the Aus- 
tralians, both in government and out, were 
fearful that insufficient forces had been al- 
lotted to the defense of their country, a view 
in which he in his professional military ca- 
pacity could not help but concur." 3 The is- 
sue was joined; the next move was General 
Marshall's. 

By this time, the decision of the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff on 1 6 March to build up 
forces in the United Kingdom for an early 
offensive against Germany had found ex- 
pression in the Bolero plan. Proposed by 



"Msg, Mr, Churchill to Mr. Roosevelt, No. 73, 
29 Apr 42. 

Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, No. 8, 
CM-OUT 6034, 30 Apr 42 ; Msg, Gen MacArthur 
to Gen Marshall, No. AG 588, CM-IN 0186, 1 
May 42. 

88 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 
151, CM-IN 0667, 3 May 42. 



General Marshall and accepted by the Brit- 
ish Chiefs of Staff and the British Govern- 
ment on 14 April, the plan called for the 
reception and maintenance of an American 
force in the United Kingdom which, in 
concert with the British, would launch an 
air offensive against western Europe and 
ultimately invade it. 6S Since it was clear 
that Bolero would either have to be sus- 
pended or appreciably delayed if further re- 
inforcements were sent to the Pacific, Gen- 
eral Marshall asked the President what his 
desires were. Mr. Roosevelt replied at once 
that he felt that further reinforcement of the 
Pacific would be inadvisable inasmuch as 
he did not want Bolero slowed down.' 

The President went further and, in a 
personal message to General MacArthur, 
explained why it had been decided not to 
increase the existing allocation in his area. 
He wrote that he found it difficult to get 
away from the fact that the armies of the 
USSR were, at that time, "killing more Axis 
personnel and destroying more Axis ma- 
teriel than all the other twenty-five United 
Nations put together." It seemed logical 
therefore to try to support the Russian ef- 
fort "in every w r ay that we possibly can, 
and also to develop plans aimed at divert- 
ing German land and air forces from the 
Russian front." MacArthur was assured 
that despite this emphasis on European op- 
erations, his needs would not be lost sight 
of, and he was promised all the air strength 
that could possibly be spared. 



89 The matter is fully discussed in Gordon Harri- 
son, Cross-Channel Attack (Washington, 1951), a 
volume in this series. 

"Memo, Gen Marshall for the President, 6 May 
42, sub : The Pacific Theater versus BOLERO, in 
JCS 48, ABC 381, Pacific Bases (1-22-42), Sec 2; 
Memo, President Roosevelt for Gen Marshall, 6 
May 42, in SWPA-MacArthur File, OPD Exec File. 



30 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



The President told General MacArthur 
that the difficulty of his position was appre- 
ciated, and the fact understood that he had 
"to be an ambassador as well as Supreme 
Commander." "I see no reason," Mr. 
Roosevelt said, "why you should not con- 
tinue discussing military matters with the 
Australian Prime Minister, but I hope you 
w r ill try to have him treat them as confiden- 
tial matters, and not use them as appeals to 
Churchill and me." 71 

General MacArthur replied two days 
later, urging that he be provided at once 
with additional means in order to secure 
Australia properly and that, when the 
country was secured, a full-scale offensive 
be launched in the Pacific. Such an offen- 
sive, he said, besides having "the enthusias- 
tic psychological support of the entire 
American nation," would serve not only to 
secure Australia and India, but would also 
open up a "second front" which would be 
of incalculable aid to Russia. The first step 
was to secure Australia, and to do that prop- 
erly, he said, required at least two aircraft 
carriers, an increase of U.S. air strength in 
Australia from 500 to 1,000 planes, and the 
assignment to his command of a U.S. Army 
corps of three first-class divisions "capable 
of executing an offensive maneuver." 72 

The same day that he dispatched this 
message to the President, General MacAr- 
thur told Mr. Curtin (who at once passed 
on the information to Dr. H. V. Evatt, his 
Minister for External Affairs) that he was 
"determined to seek a clarification in regard 
to the precise terms of his directive, and the 
forces which were to be made available to 



11 Msg, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, No. 31, 
CM-OUT 1131,6 May 42. 

" Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall No. 176, 
CM-IN 2333, 8 May 42. 



him to enable him to fulfill it." "He would 
not be content," he said, "to be left with a 
directive which sounds grand but has no 
backing behind it." 73 

Mr. Churchill had neither a surplus air- 
craft carrier nor additional shipping to al- 
locate to General MacArthur's area, nor 
did he take kindly to Mr. Curtin's request 
that two British divisions be diverted from 
the defense of India to that of Australia. In 
a letter to Mr. Curtin on 4 May, he recalled 
that, while it was true that he had promised 
to divert British divisions to Australia if the 
Japanese gave signs of an intention to in- 
vade it with eight or ten divisions, there was 
no sign that the Japanese had in mind a 
major attack on Australia. That being the 
case, he questioned the wisdom of sending 
the divisions to Australia instead of India, 
especially because India had already been 
invaded, and the switch, if it went through, 
"would involve the maximum expenditure 
and dislocation of shipping." 74 

Four days later, Dr. Evatt, who was then 
in London conferring with the British au- 
thorities, was assured personally by Mr. 
Churchill that, should Australia be invaded, 
he would "at once divert at least two divi- 
sions including an armored division, as they 
pass around the Cape"; and that he would, 
in addition, "throw everything possible into 
the defence of Australia preferring it to the 
defence of India." 73 



" Ltr, Mr. Curtin to Gen MacArthur, 8 May 42, 
in 314.7 MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ 
SWPA. This letter contains the full text of Mr. 
Curtin's cable to Dr. Evatt. The material quoted 
above is to be found in that cable. 

" Ltr, Mr. Curtin to Gen MacArthur, 4 May 42, 
in 314.7 MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ 
SWPA. 

75 Ltr, Mr. Curtin to Gen MacArthur, 8 May 42, 
in 314.7, MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ 
SWPA. 



PREPARING THE DEFENSE 



31 



The President Has the Last Word 

General MacArthur was still not satisfied. 
On 12 May he presented Mr. Curtin with 
an estimate of the situation which read in 
part as follows : 

I cannot too strongly emphasize the need 
for haste in the development of this defensive 
bastion. The territory to be defended is vast; 
the means of communications are poor ; the 
defensive forces are few in number and only 
partially trained. The enemy, on the other 
hand, if supported by major elements of his 
fleet, can exercise control of the sea lanes, and 
consequently can strike with a preponderance 
of force on any chosen objective. We have 
present therefore in this theater at the present 
time all of the elements that have produced 
disaster in the Western Pacific since the begin- 
ning of the war. 70 

Aroused, Mr. Curtin dispatched a mes- 
sage to the Australian Legation in Wash- 
ington on 14 May with the request that its 
contents be communicated to the President 
through the appropriate channels. Repeat- 
ing General MacArthur's request for addi- 
tional forces, including aircraft carriers, the 
message went on to say that the Australian 
Government would continue to "argue" the 
matter, until such time as General Mac- 
Arthur was satisfied that he had at least the 
minimum forces needed for the proper dis- 
charge of his mission." 

The message reached Field Marshal Sir 
John Dill, head of the British Joint Staff 
Mission in Washington, on the 16th. Dill at 
once referred the matter to General Mar- 
shall, who replied on 18 May that the 
planned strength of U.S. Forces in Aus- 

T " Ltr, Gen MacArthur to Mr. Curtin, 12 May 42, 
in 314.7, MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ 
SWPA. 

" Ltr, Mr. Curtin to Gen MacArthur, 16 May 42, 
in 314.7, MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ 
SWPA. 



tralia was 100,000 men, including two in- 
fantry divisions and considerable numbers 
of antiaircraft and auxiliary troops. First- 
line air strength to be provided by the 
United States was, he added, 535 planes, 
and both troops and planes were either al- 
ready in Australia or on the way. 18 

Four days later, General Marshall wrote 
to Sir John again. Noting that Australian 
ground strength in Australia would total 
400,000 men by June, he told Dill that, 
with the shipping situation what it was, 
there seemed to be little justification for the 
dispatch of additional U.S. ground forces 
to Australia. Ground and air forces pro- 
jected for Australia, General Marshall con- 
tinued, were believed to be sufficient for 
such operations as were immediately visu- 
alized for the area, especially since full-scale 
invasion of Australia did not appear to be 
imminent and the British had obligated 
themselves to send both troops and naval 
forces from the Indian Ocean if it was. 

General Marshall agreed that aircraft 
carriers for the Southwest Pacific Area 
would be extremely useful, but pointed out 
that they were simply not to be had. The 
Chief of Staff concluded his analysis of the 
situation in these words : 

The directive to General MacArthur defi- 
nitely assigns a defensive mission with the task 
of preparing an offensive. This conforms to 
our basic strategy. To be able to take positive 
action in any theater, it is necessary to hold 
forces in defensive theaters to a minimum, 
and, in doing so, to recognize the acceptance 
of certain calculated risks. The measures Gen- 
eral MacArthur advocates would be highly 
desirable if we were at war with Japan only. 
In our opinion the Pacific should not be the 
principal theater. 79 

18 Ltr, Gen Marshall to Field Marshal Sir John 
Dill, 18 May 42, in OPD Exec Off File, Bk 5. 

79 Ltr, Gen Marshall to Field Marshal Dill, 22 
May 42, in OPD Exec Off File, Bk 5. 



32 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



The President, who still had to answer 
Mr. Curtin personally, did so the next day. 
Taking up where General Marshall left off, 
he told the Australian Prime Minister that 
while he too was concerned about the pos- 
sibility of a Japanese invasion of Australia 
from New Guinea, and recognized the seri- 
ous threat to its communications if the en- 
emy should attack New Caledonia, Fiji, and 
Samoa, he nevertheless "could not lose 
sight of the fact that Australia could not be 
supported, nor could her lines of commu- 
nication be kept open unless Hawaii was 
securely held." Mr. Roosevelt conceded 
that the naval and air resources available to 
the United Nations in the Pacific were in- 



sufficient as yet to hold at all threatened 
points, but he assured Mr. Curtin that the 
available resources would be used wisely, 
and "in accordance with the most thorough 
and careful consideration of the potentiali- 
ties, known dispositions and intentions of 
the enemy as they can be deduced or other- 
wise discovered." 80 

The matter was settled. If the primary 
effort in Europe was not to be hamstrung, 
General MacArthur would have to make 
the best shift he could with what he had. 



80 The President's message in paraphrase is in Ltr, 
Mr. Curtin to Gen MacArthur, 23 May 42, in 314.7, 
MacArthur File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ SWPA. 



CHAPTER III 



The Thwarted Landing 



To the great relief of the weak and dis- 
pirited Port Moresby garrison, the occupa- 
tion of Lae and Salamaua was not immedi- 
ately followed by a move on Port Moresby. 
Fortunately for its defenders, the Japanese 
left the Port Moresby operation temporarily 
in abeyance and sent their carrier striking 
force into the Indian Ocean instead to raid 
the British. This was to prove a fatal mis- 
take. For when the Japanese finally under- 
took to land troops at Port Moresby, it was 
to find that carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet 
stood in their way, and they had sent too 
little and moved too late. 

Frustration at Jomard Passage 

Carrier Division 5 Leaves for Truk 

The Port Moresby landing had to wait 
because the Japanese had decided to com- 
mit Admiral Nagumo's entire striking force 
to the raid in the Indian Ocean. They made 
this decision because they were after a more 
glittering prize — the British Eastern Fleet. 
They hoped that Nagumo would be able 
to surprise and destroy the fleet, which was 
then based at Ceylon, in the same way that 
only three months before he had surprised 
most of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Har- 
bor. For such a strike, he would require all 
of his available carriers. Only when the raid 
was over would carrier strength be detached 
for the Port Moresby mission. 



When operations in the Indian Ocean 
were over, the large carrier Kaga would go 
on to Truk to support the Port Moresby 
landing. The rest of Admiral Nagumo's 
force, which had been months at sea, would 
be sent home for refitting. On hearing of the 
U.S. carrier strikes at Lae and Salamaua on 
10 March, the Japanese began to have 
doubts that one large carrier would be 
enough and decided to send two. Admiral 
Nagumo, with an eye to his training needs 
after the Indian Ocean operation, sent the 
Kaga back to Japan and chose the two 
large carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku (Car- 
rier Division 5 ) , then undergoing minor 
repair in Japan, for the Port. Moresby 
operation. 

On 24 March the Shokaku and the Zui- 
kaku reached Kendari in the Celebes, where 
the striking force was then based. Two days 
later Nagumo left Kendari for the Indian 
Ocean with five fast carriers under his com- 
mand. He raided Colombo and Trincoma- 
lee, main British bases in Ceylon, on 5 and 
9 April, but without catching the British 
Eastern Fleet at anchor as he had hoped. 
He did run into portions of the fleet at sea 
and, while other Japanese naval units op- 
erating in the area sank more than a score 
of Allied merchantmen, dealt it a stagger- 
ing blow by sinking in quick succession an 
aircraft carrier, two heavy cruisers, a de- 
stroyer, a corvette, and a fleet auxiliary. 

By mid-April, the raid was over. The 



34 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



striking force left the Indian Ocean and, 
after a final rendezvous off Formosa, split 
into two. The main body, under Admiral 
Nagumo, made for Japan, and Carrier Di- 
vision 5 and its escort, for Truk. The date 
was 20 April. 1 

The Orders of 29 A pril 

At Rabaul, meanwhile, the South Seas 
Detachment was on the alert, waiting for 
orders to land at Port Moresby. There had 
been a Japanese landing at Lorengau in the 
Admiralties on 6 April by a small naval 
force from Truk. A larger force from the 
Netherlands Indies had begun a series of 
landings along the coast of Netherlands 
New Guinea earlier the same week. 2 But no 
orders had been received to move on Port 
Moresby. General Horii, who had expected 
to receive them immediately after Lae and 
Salamaua were taken, inquired of Imperial 
General Headquarters on 15 April why 
there had been no action in the matter. 
Tokyo's reply was received three days later. 
In addition to ordering Horii to begin im- 



1 Ltr, Gen Willoughby to Gen Ward, 12 Apr 51 ; 
Southeast Area Naval Opns I, 5; Robinson, 
"AKAGI, Famous Japanese Carrier," in United 
States Naval Institute Proceedings, May 48, pp. 
582-86 ; ONI, Japanese Story of the Battle of Mid- 
way {Washington, 1947), p. 6 ; Morison, The Rising 
Sun in the Pacific, pp. 382-86. 

2 Tactical Summary, 8 April, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA; Feldt, The Coast Watchers, p. 17: 1st 
Demob Bur, G-2 Hist Sec GHQ FEC, Japanese 
Studies in World War II, No. 35, Japanese Naval 
Activities in Mopping-up Operations, p. 5, in 
OCMH files. Lorengau's garrison of a dozen or 
so AIF troops, warned in time that the Japanese 
were coming, took off safely in a small schooner just 
before the enemy landed. Between 12 and 20 
April the Japanese landed successively at Fakfak, 
Babo, Sorong, Manokwari, Momi, Nabire, Seroei, 
Hollandia, and Sarmi. Except at Manokwari, where 
there was a slight skirmish, all the landings were 
unopposed. 



mediate preparations for the Port Moresby 
landing, it alerted him to the fact that he 
would soon receive orders for the seizure of 
New Caledonia. This operation and that 
against Fiji and Samoa would follow the 
capture of Port Moresby. 55 

On 28 April, ten days later, at the in- 
stance of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, 
Commander in Chief of the Combined 
Fleet, Imperial General Headquarters, 
sanctioned operations against Midway and 
the Aleutians. It was agreed that these op- 
erations would follow the Port Moresby 
landing, and would be followed in turn by 
the scheduled operations against New Cale- 
donia, Fiji, and Samoa.* 

The decision of 28 April did not affect 
preparations for the Port Moresby landing. 
By this time they were so far advanced that 
General Horii was able to issue his first 
orders for the operation the next day, 29 
April — a particularly auspicious date, Horii 
felt, since it was the emperor's birthday. 
The orders provided that the Detachment 
would leave Rabaul on 4 May, under es- 
cort of the 4th Fleet, and at dawn on 10 
May would make a landing at Port 
Moresby with the support of units of the 
Kure 3d Special Naval Landing Force. The 
main body of the Detachment was to land 
on a beach seven and a half miles north- 
west of Port Moresby, and the 1st Battalion, 
144th Infantry, and the naval landing par- 
ties, were to land on another beach to the 
southeast of the town. The two forces would 
launch a converging attack and in short 



3 South Seas Det Opns, p. 12; South Seas Dei 
Opns, 2d ed., pp. 14, 15; 18th Army Opns I, 5. 

4 USSBS, Interrogation of Japanese Officials, II, 
525-526; Hist Rec, Army Section Imperial General 
Headquarters, pp. 51-52; 17th Army Opns I, 3; 
Samuel Eliot Morison, Coral Sea, Midway and Sub- 
marine Actions (Boston, 1 949 ) , pp. 6, 75. 



THE THWARTED LANDING 



35 




order take all their objectives — the harbor, 
the town, and Kila Kila airdrome immedi- 
ately outside the town. 5 

Moving Out for the Landing 

The 4th Fleet had made careful prepara- 
tions for the landing, and Admiral Inouye 

T 'Kure 3d SNLF Orders [29 April 42], copy 
in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; South Seas Det Opns, 
p. 14; South Seas Det Opns, 2d ed., p. 16: Hist Rec 
Army Section Imperial General Headquarters, pp. 
51-52; 18th Army Opns I, 7 ; Southeast Area Naval 
Opns I, 5. 



himself came to Rabaul from Truk to take 
personal charge of the operation. The oc- 
cupation force, seven destroyers, five trans- 
ports, and several seaplane tenders, was to 
have the support of the small carrier Shoho, 
which in turn would be screened by a force 
of four heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, 
and a squadron of submarines. Carrier Di- 
vision 5, which had arrived at Truk toward 
the end of the month with its screen Cruiser 
Division 5 — three heavy cruisers, a light 
cruiser, six destroyers, and an oiler — was to 



36 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




THE BATTLE OF THE CORAL SEA, 8 May 1942. The Japanese fast aircraft carrier, 
Shokaku, is heavily damaged by Navy torpedo planes. 



serve as the attack force. It was to destroy 
Allied sea and air units seeking to attack 
the occupation force, cover the landings, 
and raid Townsville in order to immobilize 
Allied attempts to interfere with the landing 
from Australia. 6 

Because the invasion plan also called for 
flying boats to operate out of Tulagi in sup- 
port of the operation, the Japanese at once 
sent a force to that point to prepare it for 
its appointed role. On 2 May, the small 
RAAF detachment at Tulagi and other 
Australian forces in its immediate vicinity 
learned of the Japanese approach. They 
set demolitions and made for Vila in the 

"Southeast Area Naval Opns, p. 5; 1 8th Army 
Opns, I, 5 ; USSBS, The Campaigns of the Pacific 
War, pp. 52-54; USSBS, Interrogations of Japanese 
Officials, I, 29-31, 53-55. 



New Hebrides, where there was part of an 
Australian Independent Company, reach- 
ing it safely a few days later. The next day, 
3 May, the Japanese landed a small force 
at Tulagi and began to convert it into a 
seaplane base. 7 

The South Seas Detachment began to em- 
bark at Rabaul for Port Moresby on 2 May. 
On 4 May, the scheduled date of departure, 
the transports left the harbor. The convoy 
met the Shoho force at a rendezvous point 
off Buin, Bougainville. Shortly thereafter, 
the Shokaku and Zuikaku and their escort 
rounded San Cristobal Island at the south- 

7 Allied Air Forces DOI, Brief Appreciation of 
the Coral Sea Battle, 5-8 May 42 ; Periodical G-2 
Msg Summary, 5 May 42. Both in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA. Southeast Area Naval Opns, p. 5; 18th 
Army Opns I, 5. 



THE THWARTED LANDING 



37 




THE BATTLE OF THE CORAL SEA, 8 May 1942. Aircraft carrier USS Lexington, 
seriously damaged by the Japanese, is abandoned. 



em tip of the Solomons and took up a sup- 
porting position to the eastward of the in- 
vasion convoy. By 7 May, the Shoho force 
was assembling in the area between De- 
boyne and Misima Island in the Louisiade 
Archipelago preparatory to passing through 
Jomard Passage, a channel which would 
bring them safely through the reefs of the 
Archipelago into Port Moresby's home wa- 
ters. The transports, at Admiral Inouye's 
orders, were standing on the western side 
of Woodlark Island. The Shokaku and Zui- 
kaku lay i n open water to the southeast. 8 



{Map 1 



"Southeast Area Naval Opns I, p. 5; South Seas 
Det Opns, p. 14 ; ONI, The Battle of the Coral Sea, 
pp. 11, 13, 16; USSBS, The Campaigns of the 
Pacific War, p. 52; USSBS, Interrogations of Japa- 
nese Officials, I, 54, Plate 10-A. 



The Battle of the Coral Sea 

This time the Allies were prepared. The 
concentration of naval forces in the Man- 
dates and at Rabaul, and a sudden increase 
of air strength in the Lae-Salamaua New 
Britain Solomons area, had given warning 
that the long-expected thrust at Port 
Moresby was at hand. To meet the danger, 
the Southwest Pacific Area made the best 
preparations it could. The Allied Air Forces, 
under General Brett, by this time based 
mainly on the newly built airfields in the 
Townsville-Cloncurry area, intensified 
their reconnaissance of New Britain, Bou- 
gainville, and the Louisiade Archipelago. 
Allied ground forces in northeast Australia 
and at Port Moresby were put on the alert. 
Three cruisers of the Allied Naval Forces, 



38 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



the Australia, the Chicago, and the Hobart, 
under Rear Adm. J. G. Crace, RN, were 
sent to the Coral Sea to reinforce elements 
of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which were gath- 
ering there preparatory to closing with the 
enemy. 9 

The Pacific Fleet, anticipating a Japa- 
nese thrust against Port Moresby, had made 
suitable provision for countering it. After 
the strikes at Lae— Salamaua on 10 March, 
the Yorktown had remained in the Coral 
Sea. On 1 May, it was rejoined there by the 
Lexington, and the combined force — two 
carriers, seven heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, 
thirteen destroyers, two oilers, and a sea- 
plane tender — came under command of 
Rear Adm. Frank J. Fletcher the same day. 

Late on 3 May Admiral Fletcher learned 
of the Japanese landing at Tulagi. Fletcher, 
who was on the Yorktown and out of touch 
with the Lexington, struck at Tulagi early 
on the 4th. Results were disappointing, for 
there were no important targets in the har- 
bor. Early the next morning, the Yorktown 
rejoined the Lexington at a rendezvous 
point a few hundred miles south of Rennell 
Island, and the combined force moved out 
to the northwest, its search planes looking 
for the enemy. 

Early on 6 May, after a great deal of 
search by carrier-based planes had failed to 
locate the enemy, Allied Air Force B-17's 
reported a large force west of Misima Island 
moving in the direction of Jomard Passage. 
Admiral Fletcher, who was then fueling at 

" GHQ SWPA OIs No. 2, 24 Apr 42, No. 5, 7 
May 42 ; Allied Air Forces DOI, Brief Appreciation 
of the Coral Sea Battle, 5-8 May 42; Msg, Gen 
MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. AG 719, 13 May 
42, in Pac Strat File, OPD Exec File; ONI, The 
Battle of the Coral Sea, pp. 9-10; Craven and Cate, 
The Army Air Forces in World War II, I, 447; 
Morison, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Ac- 
tions, pp. 19-20. 



a point roughly 700 miles southeast of Ra- 
baul, at once ordered the tanker Neosho 
and its escort, the destroyer Sims, to 
move south to a fueling rendezvous point 
believed to be out of the enemy's way. The 
rest of the fleet moved northwestward in 
the direction of the Louisiade Archipelago. 
The next morning, as the Louisiades came 
within range, a task force of cruisers and 
destroyers was given the mission of blocking 
the southern end of Jomard Passage, and 
the main force prepared to engage the 
enemy. 10 

Ironically, the rendezvous point of the 
fueling group, chosen because it was be- 
lieved to be out of harm's way, brought the 
Neosho and the Sims within easy range of 
the positions the Shokaku and Zuikaku had 
taken in order to cover the movement of 
the occupation force through Jomard Pas- 
sage. Early on the 7th, a Japanese search 
plane sighted the tanker and its escort and 
reported them to the Japanese carrier com- 
mander, Rear Adm. Tadaichi Hara, as a 
carrier and a cruiser. Hara at once ordered 
out all his planes for the kill. The Japanese 
carrier pilots made short work of the two 
ships. The Sims sank at once, and the Neo- 
sho was left in a sinking condition. 

Just before noon the same day, search 
planes from the Yorktown discovered the 
Shoho and a part of its screen off Misima 
Island. Planes from both the Lexington and 
the Yorktozvn immediately closed in. The 
carrier and a light cruiser, which was es- 
corting it, were hit, and they sank immedi- 

10 ONI, The Battle of the Coral Sea, pp. 2, 10- 
12, and map facing p. 60; Craven and Cate, The 
Army Air Forces in World War II, I, 448; USSBS, 
The Campaigns of the Pacific, pp. 52, 53, 56; Mori- 
son, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, 
pp. 26, 27. 



THE THWARTED LANDING 



39 



ately. There the day's action ended. Despite 
feverish search activity on both sides, neither 
side had thus far succeeded in definitely 
locating the main body of the other. 

The opposing carrier forces finally lo- 
cated each other in the early morning of 8 
May and their planes joined battle at once. 
On the Allied side both the Lexington and 
the YorktoTtm were damaged, the Lexing- 
ton seriously. On the Japanese side the 
Shokaku was heavily damaged, though the 
damage was by no means fatal; and the 
Zuikaku, though undamaged, lost most of 
its planes. With the Shoho gone and the 
Shokaku in no condition to continue the 
fight, Admiral Inouye, whose oil was run- 
ning low, broke off the engagement and 
withdrew to the north. Admiral Fletcher, 
who had the problem on his hands of sav- 
ing the Lexington, its planes, and its crew, 
withdrew in turn to the south. The Shokaku 
got back safely to Truk, and the transports 
carrying the South Seas Detachment 
reached Rabaul, but the Lexington devel- 
oped uncontrollable gasoline fires and had 
to be abandoned and sunk. 

The battle was over. The Allies had suf- 
fered heavier losses than the Japanese, but 
the fact that the latter had been turned back 
from Port Moresby left the victory, strate- 
gically at least, with the Pacific Fleet. 11 

On 9 May, Imperial General Headquar- 



" Southeast Area Naval Opns, I, p. 5 ; South Seas 
Del Opns, p. 15; ONI, The Battle of the Coral Sea, 
pp. 11, 21-35; USSBS, The Campaigns of the Pa- 
cific War, pp. 52, 53, 55; USSBS, Interrogation of 
Japanese Officials, I, 29, 53-54. The Allied Air 
Forces, except for reconnaissance, proved remark- 
ably ineffective during the battle. In forty-five 
sorties against enemy shipping with B-17's, B-26's, 
B— 25's and a Hudson, it scored no hits whatever on 
the enemy, and actually bombed Allied ships by 
mistake. For a full discussion of the matter, see 
Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World 
War II, I, 449-50. 



ters advised General Horii that because of 
the action at the Coral Sea the invasion of 
Port Moresby would have to be temporarily 
suspended. He was assured, however, that 
he would not have long to wait for a re- 
sumption, for it had been definitely decided 
that the operation would be carried out 
sometime in July. 12 

The landing had miscarried completely. 
Thanks to the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the South- 
west Pacific Area now had a respite in which 
to continue with the barely begun task of 
reinforcing Australia's approaches. 

Securing the Approaches 
GHQ Authorizes BOSTON 

Believing that the Japanese would strike 
at Port Moresby again with at least a divi- 
sion of troops and carrier- and land-based 
aircraft "any time after June 10," 13 Gen- 
eral MacArthur and his staff at once set 
themselves to secure the area to the maxi- 
mum extent that the available means would 
allow. 

The means were growing. On 14 May 
the 3 2d U.S. Infantry Division, under com- 
mand of Maj. Gen. Edwin F. Harding, ar- 
rived in Australia with the rest of the 41st 
Division. A day later, the 14th Australian 
Infantry Brigade Group, 3,400 strong, be- 
gan moving to Port Moresby with 700 at- 
tached Australian antiaircraft troops. 14 

South Seas Det Opns, p 15 

" Memo, CINCSWPA for Comdr ALF, et al , 20 
May 42, sub Reinforcement of Combat Means in 
Northeast Australia, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA 

14 Memo, CINCSWPA for Comdr ALF, et al , 
1 3 May 42 , G-3 Opns Rpt No 38, 14-15 May 42 
Memo, Gen Sturdec, COGS Dept of the Army, 
ALF, for GHQ SWPA, 16 May 42, sub Opns Rpt 
for Australian Army, Memo, Comdr ANF for 
Comdr ALF, et al , 22 May 42 All in G-3 Jnl, 
GHQ SWPA The 32d Division, which went into 
camp near Adelaide, was assigned to the opera- 
tional control of Allied Land Forces, effective 1 
Tune 1942, per GO 7, GHQ SWPA, 30 May 42 



40 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



One of the lessons of the Coral Sea had 
been that to cover Port Moresby's eastern 
approaches effectively the Air Force would 
have to have a base at or near the south- 
eastern tip of New Guinea. A base in the 
low-lying regions in that area would do 
more than provide protection for Port 
Moresby's uncovered flank. It would give 
the Air Force a new staging point for at- 
tacks on Japanese bases to the north and 
northwest and one, furthermore, that was 
not subject to the turbulences and other 
operational hazards that beset flight over 
the Owen Stanleys. Ultimately it would 
provide a point of departure for an advance 
along the southeast coast. 15 

These considerations were not lost on 
General MacArthur. In a letter to General 
Blarney on 14 May, he wrote that a careful 
study of weather and operating conditions 
along the southeast coast of Papua had re- 
sulted in a decision to establish new air- 
dromes there for use against Lae, Salamaua, 
and Rabaul. Noting that suitable sites ap- 
peared to be available in the coastal strip 
between Abau and Samarai near the south- 
east tip of Papua, he asked Blarney if he 
had the necessary ground troops and anti- 
aircraft units to protect these bases. When 
General Blarney replied that he had the 
troops, General MacArthur authorized the 
construction of a landing strip 50 feet by 
1,500 feet at Boston, the code name for 
Abau-Mullins Harbor area, a wild and 
largely unexplored coastal area requiring an 
immense amount of development. The new 
field (so the orders read) was to be built "in 
a location susceptible of improvement later 
on to a heavy bombardment airdrome." 1S 



15 Interv with Gen Chamberlin, 14 Jan 50. 
10 Ltr, Gen MacArthur to Gen Blarney, 14 May 
42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Ltr, Gen Blarney to 



The Plan of Reinforcement 

On 20 May, the same day that he author- 
ized the construction of an airfield at 
Boston, General MacArthur issued a com- 
prehensive plan to his commanders for the 
"reinforcement of combat means" in north- 
east Australia and New Guinea. Under 
terms of this plan, the Air Force would bring 
its existing pursuit squadrons at Port 
Moresby up to full strength, and U. S. anti- 
aircraft troops at Brisbane would be trans- 
ferred to Townsville, Horn Island, and 
Mareeba, Cooktown, and Coen, the bases 
in the Cape York Peninsula. These bases, 
Port Moresby, and the new base at Boston 
were to be fully stocked with aviation sup- 
plies, bombs, and ammunition, so that when 
an emergency arose the Air Force would be 
able to use them for the interdiction of 
enemy "movements through the Louisiades 
and along the southeast coast of New 
Guinea." The construction or improvement 
of the airfields in northeast Australia and in 
New Guinea was to be accelerated, and the 
transport to them of reinforcements and 
supplies was to be arranged by USAFIA, 
in consultation with Allied Land Forces. 17 

When completed, the new air bases in 
northeast Australia and the York Peninsula 
would advance the forward bomber line by 
as much as 500 miles. They would bring the 
bombers as close to Port Moresby as it was 
physically possible to get them without 

Gen MacArthur, 16 May 42, in 314.7, MacArthur 
File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ SWPA; Memo, CINC- 
SWPA for Comdr ALF, et al., 20 May 42, sub: 
Location and Construction erf an Airfield, South- 
east Coast of New Guinea, in 385, FALL RIVER 
File, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 

11 Memo, CINCSWPA for Comdr ALF et al, 20 
May 1942, sub: Reinforcement of Combat Means 
in Northeast Australia. 



THE THWARTED LANDING 



41 



actually basing them there, and would place 
them in position for active defensive and 
offensive action. The new fields and dis- 
persal areas at Port Moresby would not only 
facilitate the progress of the bombers as they 
staged through it in their tramontane at- 
tacks upon the Japanese bases in North East 
New Guinea and New Britain but would 
also permit more fighters and light bombers 
to be based there. The field at Boston, in 
addition to providing its offensive possibili- 
ties, would help to thwart any further Japa- 
nese attempt to take Port Moresby from the 
sea. 

On 24 May Allied Land Forces picked 
the garrison for Boston and assigned it its 
mission. Being apparently in some doubt 
that Boston could be held, Land Force 
Headquarters instructed the troops chosen 
that they would be responsible for ground 
defense of the area against only minor at- 
tacks. If the enemy launched a major attack 
against them, they were to withdraw, mak- 
ing sure before they did so that they had 
destroyed "all weapons, supplies, and ma- 
terial of value to the enemy." 18 

Milne Bay 

The field at Boston was never built. 
When an aerial reconnaissance of the east- 
ern tip of New Guinea was ordered on 22 
May, 19 it was discovered that there were 
better sites in the Milne Bay area. On 8 
June, a twelve-man party, three Americans 
and nine Australians, under Lt. Col. Lev- 



18 Memo, COGS Dept of the Army, ALF, for 
NGF, 24 May 42, sub: BOSTON Opns, in 385, 
FALL RIVER File, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 

Memo, Brig Gen Hugh J. Casey, Chief Engr 
SWPA, for Engr USAFIA, 22 May 42, sub: In- 
structions for Reconnaissance, New Guinea Air- 
field, in 686, New Guinea No. 2, G-3 Files, GHQ 
SWPA. 



erett G. Yoder, Commanding Officer, 
96th U.S. Engineer Battalion, left Port 
Moresby for Milne Bay in a Catalina flying 
boat to reconnoiter the area further. A good 
site suitable for several airfields was found 
in a coconut plantation at the head of the 
bay. Developed by Lever Brothers before 
the war, the plantation had a number of 
buildings, a road net, a small landing field, 
and several small jetties already in place. 
Impressed by the terrain and the existing 
facilities, Colonel Yoder turned in a favor- 
able report on the project the next day. 20 

Colonel Yoder's report was at once recog- 
nized at GHQ to be of the greatest signifi- 
cance. Here at last was a base which if 
properly garrisoned could probably be held, 
and GHQ lost no time ordering it to be 
developed. Construction of the field at 
Boston was canceled on 1 1 June. The fol- 
lowing day, GHQ authorized construction 
of an airfield with the necessary dispersal 
strips at the head of Milne Bay. A landing 
strip suitable for pursuit aviation was to be 
built immediately, and a heavy bomber field 
was to be developed later on. 21 

On 22 June, GHQ authorized a small 
airfield development at Merauke, a point 
on the south coast of Netherlands New 
Guinea, in order to give further protection 
to Port Moresby's western flank. 22 On the 



!0 Rpt, Lt Col Leverett G. Yoder, CO 96th Engr 
Bn, Port Moresby, 9 Jun 42, in 385, FALL RIVER 
File, G-3 files, GHQ SWPA. 

21 Memo, CINCSWPA for Comdr ALF et al, 11 
June 42, sub: Suspension of Instructions Relating 
to the Movement of Certain Troops to BOSTON; 
Memo, CINCSWPA for Comdr ALF et al., 12 Jun 
42, sub: Location and Construction of Airfield, 
Southeast Tip of New Guinea. Both in 385, FALL 
RIVER File, G-3 Files, GHQ, SWPA. 

22 Memo, CINCSWPA for Comdr ALF et al, 
22 June 42, sub: Plan for Occupation and Con- 
struction of An Advanced Airfield at Merauke, New 
Guinea, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



42 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



same day, Milne Bay's initial garrison — two 
companies and a machine gun platoon on 
loan from the 14th Australian Infantry 
Brigade at Port Moresby — left Port Moresby 
for Milne Bay in the K. P. M. ship Karsik, 
and early on 25 June the troops disembarked 
safely at Milne Bay. Four days later, the 
K. P. M. ship Bontekoe came into Milne Bay 
with a shipload of engineering equipment, 
and Company E, 46th U.S. Engineers. The 
new contingent immediately began working 
on the base. 

The 7th Australian Infantry Brigade, one 
of the better-trained militia units, was or- 
dered to Milne Bay from Townsville on 
2 July. The brigade commander and ad- 
vance elements of the brigade left by sea 
within the week, arriving at Milne Bay sev- 
eral days later. The rest of the brigade 
arrived shortly thereafter, and a squadron 
of RAAF P-40's came in toward the end 
of the month. 23 Port Moresby's vulnerable 
eastern flank was no longer uncovered. 

The Bulolo Valley 

Reinforcement of the troops in the Bulolo 
Valley, held up in late April when the threat 
to Port Moresby was at its height, was re- 
sumed when the 5th Australian Independ- 
ent Company, the reinforcing unit, again 
became available for use in the Bulolo Val- 
ley. The company and an attached mortar 



!J Ltr, Maj Gen G. A. Vascy, ALF, to GHQ 
SWPA, sub: Fall River Operation, 23 June 42: 
Msg, NGF to ALF, No. G-283, 26 June 42 ; Memo, 
GHQ SWPA for Gomdr ALF et al, 2 July 42; 
Msg, Col Albert G. Matthews to Brig Gen S. J. 
Chambcrlin, G-3, GHQ SWPA, No. 2797, 7 July 
42. All in 385, FALL RIVER File, G-3 Files, GHQ 
SWPA. Allied Air Force Opns Rpt, 6 July 42 ; ALF 
Daily Opns Rpt, 10 July 42; LHQ OI No. 27, 18 
July 42. All in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. Annual 
Rpt, OCE SWPA, 1942. 



BULOLO VALLEY AREA 

Roads and trails 



Elevations ia feel 

.0 20 JO MILES 

h i — ^— i »— *— ' 

O iO 20 30 KIL0METER5 




€/Ccr"<rUu-B 



MAP 2 

platoon were flown to W au on 26 May ; and 
the troops in the valley, by this time known 
as Kanga Force, began preparing for the 
long-delayed attacks on Lae and Sala- 
maua. 24 (Map 2) 

The attacks were meant to be purely de- 
fensive — to delay the enemy and throw him 
off stride. Should Kanga Force succeed 
in seizing Lae and Salamaua, it was planned 
to base pursuit planes immediately at Lae 
and to send further reinforcements to the 
area by sea. To hold the area for two or 



" NGF OI No. 7, 23 Apr 42; Ltr, Gen Blarney to 
Gen MacArthur, 2 May 42. Both in 385, G-3 Files, 
GHQ SWPA. Allied Air Force Opns Rpt, 25-26 
May 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



THE THWARTED LANDING 



43 



three weeks, it was hoped, would greatly 
delay the enemy and cause him to postpone 
further major action against Port Moresby. 25 

The operation ran into difficulties. Learn- 
ing from the natives that the Japanese were 
planning a major attack on the Bulolo Val- 
ley, the commander of Kanga Force had to 
split his troops and put part of them on the 
defensive. The first attack of Kanga Force, 
made with only a part of the unit's strength, 
was launched on Salamaua in late June. 
Sixty Japanese were killed and considerable 
damage was done, but the approach of 
enemy reinforcements from Lae caused the 
attackers to withdraw. A raid on Lae several 
days later had the same result. Forty Japa- 
nese were killed, but Kanga Force had 
to withdraw again in the face of superior 
numbers. 2 " 

The diversion had failed. Kanga Force 
obviously was not strong enough to dislodge 
the enemy, even for a few days. 

Kokoda 

One further loophole in Port Moresby's 
scheme of defense remained. From Buna, 
a point on the northeast coast of Papua, a 
difficult and little-known trail led over the 
Owen Stanleys to Port Moresby via Kokoda, 
a small plateau in the foothills of the range 
on which there was a small mountain air- 
field. General MacArthur's headquarters 
realized that an enemy force landing at 
Buna could quickly invest Kokoda and move 



23 Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen MacArthur, 2 May 42 ; 
Safehand Msg, G-3, GHQ SWPA to MilComd, 
Moresby. Both in 385, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 

3S G-2 Daily Msg Summary, 12 Jun 42, 20 Jun 
42; Msgs, NGF to ALF, No. G-2953, 14 Jun 42, 
No. 2140, 30 Jun 42; Msg, Air Intel, Moresby, to 
Air Intel, Melbourne, 30 Jun 42; ALF Daily Opns 
Rpts, 1 Jul 42 and 2 Jul 42. All in G-3 Jrl, GHQ 
SWPA. White, Green Armor, pp. 143, 144. 



on Port Moresby through a nearby 6,000- 
foot mountain pass known as the Gap. 
[Map I)* An inquiry was made into the 
matter during the first week in June, and it 
was discovered that Maj. Gen. Basil Morris, 
who, as GOC, New Guinea Force, was in 
command of the Port Moresby area, had 
thus far made no move co send a force to 
defend it, 27 

Alive to the danger, General MacArthur 
wrote to General Blarney on 9 June: 

There is increasing evidence that the Japa- 
nese are displaying interest in the develop- 
ment of a route from Buna on the north coast 
of southern New Guinea through Kokoda to 
Port Moresby. From studies made in this head- 
quarters it appears that minor forces may at- 
tempt to utilize this route for either attack on 
Port Moresby or for supply of forces [attack- 
ing] by the sea route through the Louisiade 
Archipelago. Whatever the Japanese plan may 
be, it is of vital importance that the route 
from Kokoda westward be controlled by Al- 
lied Forces, particularly the Kokoda area. 

"Will you please advise me," he con- 
cluded, "of the plan of the Commander, 
New Guinea Force, for the protection of 
this route and of the vital Kokoda area." 28 

General Morris, who was also head of 
the Australia-New Guinea Administrative 
Unit (ANGAU), the military government 
of Papua and the territories of the Mandate, 
replied several days later, but the reply 
was scarcely reassuring. There were, Land 
Forces was told, several ANGAU officers in 



*Maps numbered in Roman numerals are placed 
in inverse order inside the back cover. 

27 G-2 Periodic Msg Summary, 3 Jun 42; Ltr, 
Gen MacArthur to Gen Blarney, 9 Jun 42. Both in 
G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. Msg, ALF to NGF, No. G- 
27411, 20 Jun 42, in 385, New Guinea, G-3 Files, 
GHQ SWPA. 

28 Memo, Gen MacArthur for Gen Blarney, 9 Jun 
42, sub: Defense of the Buna-Kokoda-Port Mores- 
by Trail, in 385, New Guinea, G-3 Files, GHQ 
SWPA. 



44 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



the area with radio sets; native constables 
were to be found in all the villages ; and two 
platoons of the Papuan Infantry Battalion 
( PIB ) , a light reconnaissance unit made up 
principally of natives, were constantly pa- 
trolling the area. The PIB was being rein- 
forced, the report continued, and a company 
of infantry at Port Moresby was being 
readied for movement to Kokoda on short 
notice. It was considered "most unlikely," 
the report concluded, that "any untoward 
incident" could occur in the area without 
the knowledge of the district officer. 29 

General Chamberlin made it clear to 
Land Forces that he did not consider these 
measures adequate provision for Kokoda's 
security. But he decided to take no further 
action in the matter when he learned that 
General Blarney's headquarters had sent a 
radio message to General Morris ordering 
him "to take all necessary steps to prevent a 
Japanese surprise landing along the coast, 
north and south of Buna, to deny the enemy 
the grasslands in that area for an airdrome, 
and to assure that we command the pass at 
Kokoda." 30 



29 Ltr, Gen Vasey, DCofS ALF, to GHQ SWPA, 
15 Jun 42, sub: New Guinea-Protection on Route, 
Buna-Kokoda, in 385, New Guinea, G-3 Files, 
GHQ SWPA. 

30 R&R, Col J. D. Rogers, G-3 Sec GHQ, to Gen 
Chamberlin, 20 Jun 42; R&R, Gen Chamberlin to 
Gen Sutherland, 20 Jun 42. Both in 385, New 
Guinea, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 



In the radio General Morris was told that, 
as matters stood, enemy troops that landed 
at Buna could reach the vital passes in the 
Kokoda area before reinforcements from 
Port Moresby could get there. He was re- 
minded that the forces in the Kokoda area 
were "entirely native, very weak, and prob- 
ably not staunch," and was ordered to take 
immediate steps "to secure the vital section 
of the route with Australian infantry," and 
"to prepare to oppose the enemy on lines of 
advance from the coast." 31 

Five days later, General Morris estab- 
lished a new unit, Maroubra Force, and 
gave it the mission of holding Kokoda. The 
new force included the 39th Australian In- 
fantry Battalion (less one company) from 
the 30th Brigade, and the PIB — 280 natives 
and twenty whites. One company of the bat- 
talion, Company B, was ordered to Kokoda 
on 26 June, but did not leave until 7 July, 
eleven days later. The rest of the battalion, 
on orders of General Morris, remained on 
the Port Moresby side of the range, training 
and improving communications at the 
southern end of the trail. 32 



31 Msg, ALF to NGF, No. G-27411, 20 Jun 42, 
in 385, New Guinea, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 

33 NGF OI No. 18, 25 Jun 42; Brig S. H. Porter, 
Rpt on Part Played by 30th Aust Inf Bde Hq in 
Owen Stanleys, copy in OCMH files. 



CHAPTER IV 



PROVIDENCE Forestalled 



The Joint Directive of 30 March 1942 
had visualized a defensive phase followed 
by "major amphibious operations," which 
would be launched from the Southwest 
Pacific and South Pacific Areas. The idea of 
an offensive of any kind in the Pacific 
seemed wildly optimistic in March and early 
April, but the establishment by Admiral 
King on 29 April of a South Pacific Am- 
phibious Force made up principally of the 
amphibiously trained and equipped 1st 
Marine Division was at least a step in that 
direction. 1 While the assignment of this force 
laid the foundation for an eventual offen- 
sive from the South Pacific Area, it was 
clear that as long as the Japanese enjoyed 
overwhelming naval superiority in the Pa- 
cific, especially in carriers, the offensive 
would have to wait and the striking forces 
of both areas would have to remain dis- 
persed and on the defensive. Should it be- 
come possible, however, to destroy a sub- 
stantial portion of Japan's carrier strength, 
the way would be open for offensive action 
in the Pacific with the available means, 
limited though they were. The opportunity 
to inflict such a blow upon the Japanese 
Fleet came in early June, and the Pacific 
Fleet, which had long waited for the chance, 
exploited it to the full. 



1 Ltr, GOMINCH to CINCPAG et al, 29 Apr 42, 
sub: Basic Plan for the Establishment of the South 
Pacific Amphibious Force, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



Moving to the Offensive 

The Battle of Midway 

On 5 May Admiral Yamamoto was or- 
dered to seize Midway and the Aleutians 
immediately after the capture of Port 
Moresby. The reverse at the Coral Sea 
caused the Port Moresby operation to be 
postponed, and Midway and the Aleutians 
went into top place on the Japanese opera- 
tional schedule. On 18 May Yamamoto was 
further instructed that when he had taken 
Midway and the Aleutians he was to co- 
operate with the / 7th Army, which had been 
established that day, in the capture of New 
Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa, and in the 
seizure as well of Port Moresby. Though 
New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa were to 
be taken first, the seizure of all four objec- 
tives was, as far as possible, to be accom- 
plished in one continuous thrust. 2 

The commander of the 17th Army, Lt. 
Gen. Haruyoshi Hyakutake, was ordered to 
attack New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa, and 
Port Moresby in order "to cut off communi- 
cations between America and Australia." 
He lost no time in alerting the elements of 



1 Navy Staff Section, Imperial General Head- 
quarters Orders No. 18. 5 May 42, and No. 19, 18 
May 42; ATIS SCAP Doc No. 14016B, in OGMH 
files; Ltr, Gen Willoughby to Gen Ward, 12 Apr 51 ; 
Hist Rec, Army Section Imperial General Head- 
quarters, pp. 51-53. 



46 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



his newly formed command — the South 
Seas Detachment at Rabaul, the Kawaguchi 
Detachment at Palau, and the Yazawa and 
Aoba Detachments at Davao — to their part 
in the forthcoming operations. Hyakutake 
parceled out the objectives as follows: the 
South Seas Detachment (the 144th Infantry 
reinforced) was to take New Caledonia; 
the Kawaguchi Detachment (the 124th In- 
fantry reinforced) and an element of the 
Yazawa Detachment (the 41st Infantry) 
were to move against Samoa; and the Aoba 
Detachment (the 4th Infantry reinforced) 
was to land at Port Moresby. All units 
were to be in instant readiness for action 
as soon as the Midway-Aleutians victory 
was won. 3 

Admiral Yamamoto had meanwhile de- 
tailed an immense force to capture Midway 
including the four large fast carriers Kaga, 
Akagi, Hiryu, and Soryu. The remainder of 
Admiral Nagumo's command, the Shokaku 
and Zuikaku, were not able to participate 
because of the action at the Coral Sea. 

Admiral Nagumo's carrier force left 
Japan for Midway on 27 May, the same day 
that the transports left Saipan and the 
cruisers and destroyers, which were to cover 
them, left Guam. The main body of the 
fleet, with Admiral Yamamoto in command, 
left from various Japanese ports a day later. 1 

The U.S. Pacific Fleet had learned ahead 
of time of Yamamoto's intentions. Three 
aircraft carriers, the Enterprise, Hornet, and 
Yorktown, lay in wait for the enemy a 
couple of hundred miles north of Midway. 
The first sightings of the Japanese force 
were made on 3 June, and the issue was 



3 17th Army Opns I, 1, 4, 6, 7, 9. 

4 ONI, The Japanese Story of the Battle of Mid- 
way, p. 6; USSBS, The Campaigns of the Pacific 
War, pp. 74-76. 



decided the next morning after a massive 
attack on Midway by enemy carrier planes. 

The last enemy plane had scarcely left 
Midway when three of the enemy carriers — 
the Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu — all closely 
bunched together, were hit fatally by the 
dive-bomber squadrons of the Enterprise 
and the Yorktown. The Kaga and Soryu 
went down late that afternoon; the Akagi, 
with uncontrollable fires raging aboard, took 
longer to succumb but was finally scuttled 
by its own crew that evening. The Hiryu, 
which had been a considerable distance 
ahead of the main carrier force, succeeded 
in knocking out the Yorktown before it too 
was set afire by dive bombers from the 
Enterprise and Hornet. Burning fiercely, the 
Hiryu was scuttled by its crew the next 
morning. 

The loss of the carriers forced Yamamoto 
to break off the engagement and to with- 
draw his fleet to the north and west with 
U.S. naval units in pursuit. The Pacific Fleet 
had lost a carrier, a destroyer, 150 aircraft, 
and 300 men, but it had broken the back of 
the Japanese Fleet and gained one of the 
greatest naval triumphs in history. 5 

With the Combined Fleet routed, and its 
main striking force destroyed, the Allies 
were at last in a position to seize the initia- 
tive. The time had come to counterattack. 

The 2 July Directive 

The magnitude of the Japanese disaster 
at Midway was immediately realized. Of- 
fensive plans to exploit the new situation 



"ONI, The Battle of Midway, pp. 9-27; ONI, 
The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway, pp. 
8-10; USSBS, The Campaigns of the Pacific War, 
pp. 58-70: Morison, The Coral Sea, Midway and 
Submarine Actions, pp. 117-37. 



PROVIDENCE FORESTALLED 



47 




USS YORKTOWN UNDER JAPANESE FIRE during the Battle of Midway. 



and add further to the enemy's discomfiture 
were quickly evolved and presented to the 
Joint Chiefs of Staffs for consideration. 

General MacArthur, who assumed as a 
matter of course that he would be in com- 
mand from start to finish since all the ob- 
jectives lay in his area, had proposed that 
the operation be an uninterrupted thrust 
through New Guinea and the Solomons, 
with Rabaul as the final objective. The 
Navy, standing for a more gradual ap- 
proach, insisted that Tulagi would have to 
be taken and secured before the final attack 
on Rabaul was mounted. In addition, it 
had raised strong objections to having Gen- 
eral MacArthur in command of the opera- 
tion, at least in its first, purely amphibious, 
stages. 



General Marshall found it difficult to 
secure agreement on these issues, but suc- 
ceeded finally on the basis of a draft direc- 
tive that divided the operation into three 
tasks. Task One, the seizure of the Tulagi 
area, was to be under Vice Adm. Robert L. 
Ghormley, Commander of the South Pa- 
cific Area, while Tasks Two and Three 
would be under General MacArthur. 

Agreement on the final form of the direc- 
tive was reached on 2 July. After stating that 
offensive operations would be conducted 
with the ultimate objective of seizing and 
occupying the New Britain-New Ireland— 



6 The matter is fully discussed in To hn Miller, jr., 
\Guadalcanal: The First Offensive (Washington, 
1949), pp. 8-17, a volume in this series. 



48 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



New Guinea area, the directive laid down 
the following tasks: 

a. Task One. Seizure and occupation of 
the Santa Cruz Islands, Tulagi, and adjacent 
positions. 

b. Task Two. Seizure and occupation of 
the remainder of the Solomon Islands, of Lae, 
Salamaua, and the northeast coast of New 
Guinea, 

c. Task Three. Seizure and occupation of 
Rabaul and adjacent positions in the New 
Guinea-New Ireland area. 

Task One, under Admiral Ghormley, 
was given a target date of 1 August. Mac- 
Arthur would not only supply naval rein- 
forcements and land-based air in support of 
Task One but would also provide for the 
interdiction of enemy air and naval activi- 
ties westward of the operating areas. To 
remove the objection that Admiral Ghorm- 
ley would exercise command in General 
MacArthur's area, the boundary between 
the Southwest Pacific Area and South Pa- 
cific Area would, as of 1 August, be changed 
to 159° East Longitude, thereby bringing 
Tulagi and adja cent positio ns into the South 
Pacific Area. 7 



(Map 3) 



The SWPA Prepares 
Girding for Action 

General MacArthur now had a twofold 
responsibility. His responsibility under Task 
One was to lend the South Pacific Area the 
fullest support possible with his aircraft, sub- 
marines, and naval striking force. His re- 
sponsibility under the succeeding tasks was 
to prepare his command for early offensive 
action, and this he lost no time in doing. 

A change was made in the command of 



the Allied Air Forces. On 13 July, Maj. 
Gen. George C. Kenney, then commanding 
general of the Fourth Air Force at San 
Francisco, was ordered to take over com- 
mand of the Allied Air Forces. General 
Brett was to remain temporarily in com- 
mand until Kenney's arrival. 8 

The U.S. Army services of supply were 
reorganized. The United States Army in 
Australia (USAFIA), which was essen- 
tially a supply echelon, and not, as its name 
suggested, an administrative headquarters 
for U.S. troops in Australia, was discon- 
tinued on 20 July. The United States Army 
Services of Supply, Southwest Pacific Area 
(USASOS SWPA), with General Mac- 
Arthur's deputy chief of staff, Brig. Gen. 
Richard J. Marshall, in command, was 
established the same day. General Barnes, 
like General Brett, was ordered back to the 
United States for reassignment." 

To achieve more effective control over 
operations, General Headquarters, South- 
west Pacific Area (familiarly known as 
GHQ), and subordinate Allied land, air, 
and naval headquarters were moved from 
Melbourne to Brisbane. The move was com- 
pleted on 20 July, 10 and brought the highest 
headquarters in the area 800 miles closer to 



1 Joint Directive for Offensive Operations in the 
Southwest Pacific agreed upon by the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff, 2 July 42, copy in 381, OPD SWPA, See 2. 



8 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. AG 
24, GM-IN 8604, 26 Jun 42 ; Msg, Gen Marshall to 
Gen MacArthur, No. 390, CM-OUT 3429, 13 Jul 
42; Gen George C. Kenney, General Kenney Re- 
ports (New York, 1949), pp. 9-11. 

9 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. C- 
62, 10 Jul 42; USAFIA GO 78, 18 Jul 42: GHQ 
SWPA GO 17, 20 Jul 42; USASOS SWPA GO 1, 
20 Jul 42. All in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 

m GHQ SWPA OI No. 11, 14 Jul 42; Msg, Gen 
MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. C-107, CM-IN 
5468, 16 Jul 42. The original intention had been to 
move GHQ to Townsville, in order to be that much 
closer to New Guinea. A critical lack of communi- 
cations facilities at Townsville resulted in the deci- 
tion to move to Brisbane. Ltr, Gen Sutherland to 
Gen Ward, 27 Feb 51. 



PROVIDENCE FORESTALLED 49 




MAP 3 



the combat zone and in position to make a 
further forward move should one be re- 
quired by the trend of operations. 

United States antiaircraft units at Perth, 
which were obviously no longer needed 
there, were transferred to Townsville, and 
the 3 2d and 41st Divisions were ordered 
to new camps in Queensland, where they 
were to be assigned to a corps and given 
training in jungle warfare. 11 The 41st Di- 



11 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 12, 
CM-IN 0586, 2 Jul 42. 



vision, then in training near Melbourne, 
began to move to Rockhampton on 12 July. 
A day later, the 32d Division began to move 
from Adelaide to a camp near Brisbane. 12 



,s Ibid.; Memo, Col. S. E. Anderson for CG AGF, 
6 Jul 42, sub: Remarks by Commanding General, 
Southwest Pacific Area; Memo, Maj Gen Robert C. 
Richardson, Jr., for Gen Marshall, 9 Jul 42, sub: 
Report No. 5. Both memos in Special Collections 
File, OPD Exec File. ALF Daily Opns Rpts, 12 
Jul 42 and 13 Jul 42; G-3 Opns Rpt, No. 96, 13 
Jul 42. All in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



50 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



The corps command had been given 
initially to Maj. Gen. Robert C. Richard- 
son, Jr., then Commanding General, VII 
Corps. However, when it was found that 
General Richardson (who had reached 
Australia in early July, in the course of a 
tour of inspection for General Marshall) 
had strong objections to serving under Aus- 
tralian command, the assignment went to 
Maj. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, Com- 
manding General, I Corps, a classmate at 
West Point of both Generals Harding and 
Fuller of the 32d and 41st Divisions, which 
were to make up his corps. 13 

Airfield construction in the forward areas 
was accelerated. By early July, the airfields 
in the York Peninsula-Horn Island area 
were well along, and air force units were 
occupying them as rapidly as they became 
ready for use. 14 At Port Moresby, seven fields 
were projected, and work was progressing 
on four. At Milne Bay, three fields were 
under way, and one strip was expected to be 
in full operation by the end of the month. 15 

These heavy construction commitments 
made it necessary to send more U.S. engi- 

13 Msgs, Gen Marshal] to Gen MacArthur, No. 
353, CM-OUT 1779, 7 Jul 42, No. 367, CM-OUT 
2303, 9 Jul 42, No. 332, CM-OUT 8821, 30 Jul 42, 
No. 440, CM-OUT 7373, 2 Aug 42; Msg, Gen 
MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. C-182, CM-IN 
0155, 1 Aug 42; Official Army Register, 1942, pp. 
260, 305, 368. All three generals were born in the 
year 1886. Two of them, Eichelberger and Harding, 
were appointed to the academy from Ohio. Fuller, 
who was from South Dakota, had been an appointee 
at large. 

" Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. Q- 
147, CM-IN 1067, 2 Aug 42; Memo, Gen Cham- 
berlin for Gen Sutherland, 21 Aug 42, in 385-9. 
G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 

13 Msg, U. S. Mil Comd (Moresby) to GOC NGF, 
No. C-28613, 26 Jun 42, in 385, FALL RIVER 
File, G~3 Files, GHQ SWPA ; Msg, Gen MacArthur 
to Gen Marshall, No. C-301, CM-IN 7017, 19 Aug 
42; Ltr, Gen Casey to Gen Chamberlin, 21 Aug 42, 
sub: Engineer Annex for Tulsa Plan: Annual Rpt 
OCE SWPA, 1942. Both in AFPAC Engr File. 



neer troops to New Guinea to assist the 
American and Australian engineers already 
there. The 808th Engineer Aviation Bat- 
talion, then at Darwin, was put on orders 
for Port Moresby on 21 July. The 2d Bat- 
talion of the 43d U.S. Engineers (less Com- 
pany E, which was at Port Moresby) was 
ordered to Milne Bay the same day to join 
with the company of the 46th Engineers, 
which was already on the ground, in the 
construction of the crucially needed airfields 
there. 16 

Buna and the Theater Plan 

The theater plan of operations, the Tulsa 
plan, was revised in the light of the 2 July 
directive. It had previously merely pointed 
to the need of a major airfield in the Buna 
area if Lae and Salamaua were attacked. 
As revised, it now provided for the immedi- 
ate establishment of a field in that area in 
order that it might be available for support 
of operations against Lae and Salamaua as 
prescribed by Task Two. 17 

The problem was how to meet this re- 
quirement. There was a small neglected 
emergency strip just southeast of Buna about 
which little was known except that it seemed 
to be too wet and too low lying to be ex- 
ploited profitably for military use. On 9 July 
GHQ ordered a reconnaissance of the Buna 
area. The object of the reconnaissance was 
to ascertain whether the existing strip had 
any military value and, if not, to find an all- 
weather site elsewhere in the area which the 
military could use. 

M Ltr, GHQ SWPA to Comdr ALF, el al., 6 Jul 
42, sub: Employment of Engineers at Fall River, 
in 686, New Guinea, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA; ALF 
Dailv Opns Rpt, 21 Jul 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA; Annual Rpt OCE SWPA, 1942. 

" TULSA HA, Joint Basic Plan for the Occupa- 
tion of the Area New Britain-New Ireland-Admir- 
alty Islands [n. d. Jul 42], abstract in OCMH files. 



PROVIDENCE FORESTALLED 



51 



The PROVIDENCE Operation 
The Reconnaissance 

The reconnaissance was made on 1 and 
1 1 July by a party of six officers from Port 
Moresby, who reached the area in a Catalina 
flying boat. The party was headed by Lt. 
Col. Bernard L. Robinson, a ranking U.S. 
engineer officer at Port Moresby, and in- 
cluded three Australian officers who had 
personal knowledge of the area, Lt. Col. 
Boyd D. Wagner, U.S. fighter group com- 
mander at Port Moresby, and Colonel 
Yoder. Carefully examining the terrain of 
the entire area, the six officers found that, 
while the existing strip was virtually useless 
for military purposes, the grass plains area 
at Dobodura fifteen miles south of Buna 
was an excellent site suitable for large-scale 
air operations, even in the rainy season 
which was then only a few months away. 

In a special report to General Casey, 
Colonel Robinson recommended that the 
existing site not be developed, except per- 
haps as an emergency landing field for 
fighter aircraft. The site at Dobodura, on 
the other hand, he thought almost ideal for 
large-scale military use. Drainage was good; 
stone, gravel, and timber in adequate 
amounts were to be found in the area ; and 
considerable native labor was available lo- 
cally for the construction of the field. The 
site would provide ample room for proper 
aircraft dispersal, and with only light clear- 
ing and grading would provide an excellent 
landing field, 7,000 feet long and more than 
300 feet wide, lying in the direction of the 
prevailing wind. 18 



18 Memo, Lt Col Bernard L. Robinson, CE, for 
Gen Casey, 13 Jul 42, sub: Rpt on Airdrome Site 
in the Vicinity of Buna, New Guinea, in AFPAG 
Engr File. 



The Plan To Occupy Buna 

When the news was received at GHQ that 
Dobodura was an all-weather site, it was 
decided to establish an airfield there with 
all possible speed. On 13 July General 
Chamberlin called a meeting of the repre- 
sentatives of the Allied Land Forces, the 
Allied Air Forces, the Antiaircraft Com- 
mand, and the supply services to discuss in 
a preliminary way the part each could ex- 
pect to play in the operation. A second 
meeting was called the next day in which 
the matter was discussed in greater detail 
and a general scheme of maneuver for the 
occupation of Buna was worked out. 19 

The plan was ready on the 15th, and 
instructions to the commanders concerned 
went out the same day. The operation, 
which was given the code name Provi- 
dence, provided for the establishment of a 
special unit, Buna Force, with the primary 
mission of preparing and defending an air- 
field to be established in the Buna area. 
At first the airfield would consist only of a 
strip suitable for the operation of two pur- 
suit squadrons, but it was eventually to be 
developed into a base capable of accommo- 
dating three squadrons of pursuit and two 
of heavy bombardment. 

Brig. Gen. Robert H. Van Volkenburgh, 
commanding general of the 40th Artillery 
Brigade (AA) at Port Moresby, was to be 
task force commander with control of the 
troops while they were moving to Buna. An 
Australian brigadier would take command 
at Buna itself. 

The movements of Buna Force to the tar- 
get area would be in four echelons or serials, 



19 Memo, Lt Col Elvin R. Heiberg, CE, for Gen 
Casey, 15 Jul 42, sub: Conference on Buna Air- 
drome, in 337, Conf Rpts, in AFPAC Engr File. 



52 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



covered by aviation from Milne Bay and 
Port Moresby to the maximum extent pos- 
sible. Denning D Day as the day that Buna 
would first be invested, the orders provided 
that Serial One, four Australian infantry 
companies and a small party of U.S. engi- 
neers, would leave Port Moresby on foot on 
D minus 1 1 . These troops were scheduled to 
arrive at Buna, via the Kokoda Trail, on D 
minus 1, at which time they would secure 
the area and prepare it for the arrival of 
the succeeding serials. 

Serial Two, 250 men, mostly Americans, 
including an engineer party, a radar and 
communications detachment, some port 
maintenance personnel, and a .50-caliber 
antiaircraft battery, would arrive at Buna in 
two small ships on the morning of D Day. 
The incoming troops would combine with 
those already there and, in addition to help- 
ing secure the area, would provide it with 
antiaircraft defense. 

Serial Three, the main serial, would in- 
clude the Australian brigadier who was to 
take command at Buna, an Australian in- 
fantry battalion, a RAAF radar and com- 
munications detachment, the ground ele- 
ments of two pursuit squadrons, an Ameri- 
can port detachment, and other supporting 
American troops. This serial was due at 
Buna on D plus 1, in an escorted convoy of 
light coastwise vessels, bringing its heavy 
stores and thirty days' subsistence for the 
garrison. 

The fourth serial would consist of a com- 
pany of American engineers and the remain- 
ing ground elements of the two pursuit 
squadrons that were to be stationed in the 
area. It would reach Buna from Townsville 
by sea on D plus 14, accompanied by further 
stores of all kinds for the operation of the 
base. 

The attention of hostile forces would be 



diverted from the Buna area, both before 
and during the operation, by attacks upon 
Lae and Salamaua by Kanga Force and the 
Allied Air Forces. Since the "essence'' of the 
plan was "to take possession of this area, 
provide immediate antiaircraft defense, and 
to unload supplies prior to discovery," no 
steps were to be taken to prepare the air- 
drome at Dobodura until Serial Three had 
been unloaded, lest the enemy's attention 
be prematurely attracted to it. 20 

Colonel Robinson, who was to be in 
charge of the construction of the airfield, 
was cautioned that no clearing or other 
work was to be started at Dobodura until 
the engineers and protective troops had dis- 
embarked and the ships had been unloaded. 
Lt. Col. David Larr, General Chamberlin's 
deputy, who had been detailed to assist Gen- 
eral Van Volkenburgh in co-ordinating the 
operation, made it clear to all concerned 
that its success depended upon secrecy in 
preparation and execution. Every precau- 
tion was to be taken to conceal the move- 
ment, its destination, and its intent. Above 
all, the existence of the airdrome was to be 
concealed from the Japanese as long as 
possible. 21 

Movement orders for the first three serials 
were issued on 17 July. Serial One was to 
leave Port Moresby at the end of the month, 
31 July. It would arrive at Buna on 10-12 
August, a few days after the Guadalcanal 



20 Ltr, Gen Sutherland to Comdr ALF, et al, 15 
Jul 42, sub: Occupation and Construction of Air- 
drome in Vicinity of Buna Bay, Southeastern Penin- 
sula of New Guinea, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 

"Msg, Gen Casey to Col Robinson, 15 Jul 42, 
copy in AFPAC Engr File; Ltr, Gen Sutherland 
to Gen Van Volkenburgh, 15 Jul 42, sub: In- 
structions, in 385, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA; Lt Col 
David Larr, G-3 Sec, GHQ SWPA, Scheme of 
Maneuver for the Occupation of Buna, 15 Jul 42, 
in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



PROVIDENCE FORESTALLED 



53 



landing, which, by this time, had been ad- 
vanced to 7 August. 22 

The Japanese Get There First 
Colonel Larr Sounds the Alarm 

General Van Volkenburgh and Colonel 
Larr had scarcely begun to make their first 
preparations for the operation when they 
received the disturbing intelligence on 18 
July that the Japanese also appeared to have 
designs on Buna. Twenty-four ships, some 
of them very large, had been seen in Rabaul 
harbor on 1 7 July, and a number of what 
appeared to be trawlers or fishing boats 
loaded with troops had been reported off 
Talasea (New Britain). The troops, esti- 
mated as at least a regiment, were obviously 
from Rabaul, 23 and to General Van Volken- 
burgh and Colonel Larr, who talked the 
matter over, it added up to just one thing — 
that the Japanese were moving on Buna. 

Colonel Larr, then at Townsville, at once 
got General Sutherland on the telephone. 
Speaking both for himself and General Van 
Volkenburgh, he noted that Serial One, 
which was not to begin moving till the end 
of the month, might reach Buna too late. 
He proposed therefore that forces be imme- 
diately dispatched to Buna by flying boat in 
order to forestall a possible Japanese landing 
there. He urged that an antiaircraft battery 
be dispatched by flying boat to Buna at least 



"USAFIA Movement Dir No. 174, 17 Jul 42, 
in AFPAC Engr File; LHQ OI No. 26, 17 Jul 42, 
in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. Ltr, Gen Sutherland to 
Gen Blarney et al, 17 Jul 42, sub: Occupation and 
Construction of Airdrome "PROVIDENCE," in 
385, New Guinea, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 

2J Rad SIO, Townsville to DNI, Melbourne, No. 
4299, 18 Jul 42 ; G-2 Daily Summary Enemy Intel, 
No. 117, 18 Jul 42; Transcript Tel Msg, Col Larr 
to Gen Sutherland, Brisban e 18 Tul 42. A ll in G-3 
Jnl, GHQ SWPA. See below] Ch. V, n.8." 



by 21 July, and that the PBY's then go on to 
Moresby to fly in as many troops of Serial 
One as possible. The whole schedule of 
Providence, he said, had to be accelerated. 
Serials Two and Three would have to arrive 
together; and the occupying force would, if 
necessary, have to be supplied entirely by air. 

Larr went on to say that he knew that 
the Air Force could not possibly move more 
than a hundred men into Buna by flying 
boat at one time. He urged that immediate 
action be taken nevertheless to accelerate 
Providence, for both he and General Van 
Volkenburgh felt that the element of sur- 
prise had already been lost. He concluded 
his call with these words : "We may be able 
to hold Buna if we get there first." 24 

General Chamberlin answered for Gen- 
eral Sutherland the next day. The troop 
concentrations at Rabaul and Talasea, Gen- 
eral Chamberlin radioed, did not neces- 
sarily mean that the Japanese intended a 
hostile move against Buna. Nor was it by 
any means certain that the element of sur- 
prise had been lost. The suggested plan to 
occupy Buna immediately was likely to de- 
feat itself because it lacked strength. The 
danger was that it would serve only to at- 
tract the enemy's attention, and perhaps 
bring on an enemy landing — the very thing 
that was feared. For that reason, the orig- 
inal plan would have to be adhered to sub- 
stantially as drawn. General Van Volken- 
burgh and Colonel Larr were assured that 
the dispatch of Serial One to Kokoda would 
be hastened and that every effort would be 
made to get it there at the earliest possible 
moment. 25 It was clear however that even 



21 Transcript Tel Msg, Col Larr to Gen Suther- 
land, 18 Jul 42. 

55 Rad, Gen Chamberlin to Gen Van Volkenburgh 
(through ACH, Townsville), 19 Jul 42, in 385, G-3 
File, GHQ SWPA. 



54 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



if there was an acceleration it would be 
slight. D Day would still have to follow the 
Guadalcanal landing. 

The Enemy Crashes Through 

The Air Force had meanwhile been strik- 
ing at Rabaul as frequently as it was able. 
The bombing had been sporadic at best; 
and because the B-17's in use were badly 
worn, and the bomber crews manning them 
(veterans, like their planes, of Java and the 
Philippines) were tired and dispirited, the 
results were far from gratifying. 26 Thinking 
to give the men a rest and to gain time in 
which to put "all equipment in the best 
possible condition," General Brett (who 
continued as air commander, pending Gen- 
eral Kenney's arrival) suspended all bomb- 
ing missions on 18 July, 27 Except for a 
nuisance raid on Kieta on Bougainville 
Island by an LB-30 from Townsville, no 
combat missions were flown on either the 
18th or 19th. A single Hudson sent from 
Port Moresby on the 19th to reconnoiter 
Talasea and Cape Gloucester (on the north- 
west tip of New Britain) for some further 
sign of the troop-laden trawlers which had 
so disturbed General Van Volkenburgh and 
Colonel Larr reported no sightings whatever 
in the area. 28 

The next morning the picture changed 
completely. A B-17, staging from Port 
Moresby, sighted two warships and five 



M Allied Air Force Opns Rpts, 1-2 Jun through 
17-18 Jul 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Craven 
and Gate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, 
I, 482 ; Kenney, General Kenney Reports, pp. 35, 
36, 42. 

"Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 18, 19 Jul 42; 
Gen Brett, "The MacArthur I Knew," in True, 
October 47, p. 148. 

"Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 19 Jul 42, with 
incl Allied Air Recon Rpt, 19 Jul 42. 



other vessels thought to be warships about 
seventy-five nautical miles due north of 
Talasea. Two merchantmen, which could 
have been transports, were sighted just north 
of Rabaul moving in a westerly direction as 
if to join the ships off Talasea. 29 

What followed was a study in frustration. 
Bad weather set in; there was a heavy mist; 
and visibility went down to virtually noth- 
ing. The air force though on the alert, and 
with an unusually large number of aircraft 
in condition to attack, could find no trace of 
the convoy until 0820 on the morning of 
2 1 July, when a cruiser, five destroyers, and 
several transports were glimpsed fleetingly 
ninety miles due east of Salamaua. The 
convoy, which was seen to be without air 
cover, was sighted again at 1515 off Ambasi, 
a point forty miles northwest of Buna. A 
single B-l 7 followed by five B-26's located 
and attacked it there, but without result. 
Darkness set in, and, although the Japanese 
gave away their position by shelling Gona 
and Buna from the sea at 1800 and 1830, all 
further attempts to locate the convoy that 
night proved fruitless. 30 

The Landing 

At 0635 the following morning, the in- 
vasion convoy was discovered just off Gona 



Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 20 Jul 42, with 
incl Allied Air Recon Rpt, 20 Jul 42; Rad, Port 
Moresby to ACH, Townsville, No. A-51, 20 Jul 
42. Both in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 

30 Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 21 Jul 42, with 
incl Allied Air Recon Rpt, 21 Jul 42; Rad, Port 
Moresby to ACH, Townsville, No. A-392, 21 Jul 
42; G-2 Daily Summary Enemy Intel No. 121, 22 
Jul 42; COIC Sitrep No. 3012, 22 Jul 42. All in 
G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. ALF, Summary of Opns 
in New Guinea, Owen Stanley— Buna— Gona areas, 
21 Jul 42-22 Jan 43, in OCMH files. The landing 
actually began at 1800 on 21 July. Intel Rpt No. 3, 
17 th Army, Rabaul, 30 Jul 42, in ATIS EP No. 28. 



PROVIDENCE FORESTALLED 



55 



by an RAAF Hudson. 31 The exact point was 
Basabua, about one and one-half miles south 
of Gona and about nine miles northwest of 
Buna. At the moment of discovery, landing 
operations, though far advanced, were not 
yet complete. Landing barges were still mov- 
ing from ship to shore, and supplies, which 
were being rapidly moved into the surround- 
ing jungle, still littered the beach. Antiair- 
craft had already been set up ashore, but 
there were no Japanese aircraft overhead 3a 
despite the fact that Lae was only 1 60 miles 
away, and the Japanese, who had air su- 
periority in the region, were suffering from 
no dearth of aircraft at the time. For- 
tunately for the Japanese ashore, a heavy 
haze hung over the area and made effective 
attack from the air extremely difficult. The 
Air Force made 81 sorties that morning, 
dropped 48 tons of bombs, and used up 
more than 15,000 rounds of ammunition in 



31 Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 22 Jul 42; G-2 
Daily Summary Enemy Intel No. 121, 22 Jul 42. 
Both in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 

32 Ibid . ; Fid Log Sakigawa Tat, Jul- Aug 42, in 
ATIS EP No. 27: Intel Rpt No. 3, 17th Army Hq, 
Rabaul, 30 Jul 42, in ATIS EP No. 28; ATIS Bui 
No. 183, Items 17, 18, in ATIS CT 25 ; Rad, ACH, 
Townsville, to CWR, No. A-470, 22 Jul 42; G-2 
Daily Summary Enemy Intel, No. 122, 22-23 Jul 
42; Allied Air Forces DOI, Weekly Review Air 
Activities, 25 Jul. Last three in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA. 



strafing the area, 33 but the results were dis- 
appointing. 

One transport was hit and went up in 
flames. A landing barge with personnel 
aboard was strafed and sunk; a float plane 
(probably from the Japanese cruiser that 
had escorted the convoy) was shot down; 
landing barges, tents, supplies, and antiair- 
craft installations were bombed and strafed; 
and a hit was claimed on one of the destroy- 
ers. By 0915, all the vessels with the excep- 
tion of the burning transport, had cleared 
the area safely and were heading north . 3i 

The Japanese in the landing force lost no 
time in clearing their supplies from the 
beach. Shielded by the luxuriant jungle and 
the deepening haze, they quickly made good 
their landing. The implications of its success 
for the Southwest Pacific Area were all too 
clear. The Providence operation had been 
forestalled by almost three weeks. Plans for 
the early inception of Task Two had been 
frustrated. The Papuan Campaign had 
begun. 

33 Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 22 Jul 42 ; G-2 
Daily Summary Enemy Intel, No. 122, 23 Jul 42. 
The planes involved were B— 17's, B-25's, B-26's, 
P-39's, P-40E's, P-400's, and the Hudson that had 
made the first sighting. 

"Ibid.; Fid Log Sakigawa Tai, Jul Aug 42; 
Interr, Gen Adachi et al.; ALF, Summary of Oper- 
ations in New Guinea, Owen Stanley— Buna— Gona 
Areas, 21 Jul 42-22 Jan 43, in OCMH files. 



CHAPTER V 



Kokoda Thrust 



The landing at Basabua on the night of 
21-22 July was a direct outgrowth of the 
naval reverses the Japanese had suffered at 
the Coral Sea and Midway. After the Battle 
of the Coral Sea, they had temporarily post- 
poned the Port Moresby operation with the 
understanding that they would return to it 
as soon as succeeding operations against 
Midway and the Aleutians had been com- 
pleted. The loss of their first-line carriers at 
Midway had disrupted these plans. Not only 
were the Japanese forced to postpone in- 
definitely the projected operations against 
the South Pacific island bases, but they had 
to abandon the idea of taking Port Moresby 
by amphibious assault. They realized that to 
use the few remaining carriers for support of 
a second amphibious thrust against Port 
Moresby would probably be to lose them to 
superior carrier forces of the U. S. Pacific 
Fleet, a risk that they were not prepared to 
take. Since they were agreed that Port 
Moresby, which flanked Rabaul, would 
have to be taken at the earliest possible mo- 
ment, the problem became one of taking it 
without carrier support. The successful land- 
ing in the Buna Gona area was the first in- 
dication of the manner in which they had 
chosen to solve that problem. 1 



1 Hist Rec Army Section Imperial General Head- 
quarters, pp. 53, 60; Southeast Area Naval Opns, 
p. 7; 17th Army Opns I, 7, 8 ; USSBS, Interroga- 
tions of Japanese Officials, II, 524, 525. 



Planning the Overland Attack 

The Operations Area 

The die was cast. The fighting was to be 
in the Papuan Peninsula, or, as the Japa- 
nese insisted on calling it, eastern New 
Guinea. The peninsula, part of the Territory 
of Papua, a lush, tropical area, most of it 
still in a state of nature, lies at the southeast 
end of New r Guinea, forming the tail, so to 
speak, of that vast, bird-shaped island. Oc- 
cupying an area of 90,540 square miles, 
Papua is an Australian possession, annexed 
by the British in 1 884, and turned over to 
the Australians in 1901 . The natives, of Mel- 
anesian stock, are at a primitive stage of de- 
velopment; and the fact that their hair is 
generally frizzly rather than woolly has given 
Papua its name — Papuwa being the Malay 
for frizzly or frizzled. 

The Japanese could scarcely have chosen 
a more dismal place in which to conduct a 
campaign. The rainfall at many points in 
the peninsula is torrential. It often runs as 
high as 150, 200, and even 300 inches per 
year, and, during the rainy season, daily 
falls of eight or ten inches are not uncom- 
mon. The terrain, as varied as it is difficult, 
is a military nightmare. Towering saw- 
toothed mountains, densely covered by 
mountain forest and rain forest, alternate 
with flat malarial, coastal areas made up of 
matted jungle, reeking swamp, and broad 



KOKODA THRUST 



57 




patches of knife-edged kunai grass four to 
seven feet high. The heat and humidity in 
the coastal areas are well-nigh unbearable, 
and in the mountains there is biting cold 
at altitudes over 5,000 feet. The mountains 
are drained by turbulent rivers and creeks, 
which become slow and sluggish as they 
reach the sea. Along the streams, the 
fringes of the forest become interwoven from 
ground to treetop level with vines and 
creepers to form an almost solid mat of 
vegetation which has to be cut by the ma- 
chete or the bolo before progress is possible. 
The vegetation in the mountains is almost 
as luxuriant; leeches abound everywhere; 
and the trees are often so overgrown with 



creepers and moss that the sunlight can 
scarcely filter through to the muddy tracks 
below. 

The Owen Stanley Mountains, whose 
peaks rise to heights of more than 13,000 
feet, overshadow the entire Papuan Pen- 
insula, running down its center to Milne 
Bay like an immense spine. On the north- 
east, or Buna, side the foothills of the range 
slope gently to the sea. On the southwest 
or Port Moresby side, the picture is star- 
tlingly different. Sharp ridges which rise 
abruptly from the southwest coast connect 
with the main range to produce a geograph- 
ical obstacle of such formidable proportions 
that overland crossing is possible only by 



58 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



means of tortuous native footpaths or tracks 
that lead from one native village to the 
other, often at dizzy heights. 

The Kokoda Trail 

The best overland route to Port Moresby 
passed through Kokoda, a point about fifty 
miles from Buna and more than one hun- 



dred miles from Port Moresby. {Maps II 
and 4) At Wairopi, about thirty miles 




KOKODA - 
! TEMPLE TON'S CROSSING 
AREA 



====== Kokoda trail 



1 KILOW£T£RS 



(Templeton's Crossing 



MAP 4 



southwest of Buna, a wire-rope bridge, from 
which the place took its name, spanned 
the immense gorge of the Kumusi River, a 
broad turbulent stream subject to danger- 
ous undertows and flash floods. Between 
Buna and Wairopi the country is gentle and 
rolling. Past Wairopi it suddenly becomes 
steep and rocky. Kokoda itself is set on a 
little plateau between the foothills of the 
Ajura Kijala and Owen Stanley Ranges. 
On this plateau, which is about 1,200 feet 
above sea level, there was a small airfield, 
suitable only for use by light commercial 
planes and the smaller types of military 
transport aircraft. 

From Kokoda, the trail leads southward 
along the western side of a huge canyon or 
chasm, the so-called Eora Creek Gorge. It 
passes through the native villages of Deniki 
and Isurava to a trail junction at Alola, 
where a cross-country trail from Ilimo, a 
point southwest of Wairopi, joins the main 
track via Kobara, Fila, Missima, and 
Abuari, a short-cut which makes it possible 
to bypass Kokoda. From Alola, the trail 
crosses to the eastern side of Eora Creek and 
climbs to Templeton's Crossing, where the 
immense spurs of the main range are met for 
the first time at an elevation of 7,000 feet. 

Just past Templeton's Crossing is the 
Gap, the mountain pass that leads across 
the range. The Gap, which is only twenty 
miles south of Kokoda, is a broken, jungle- 
covered saddle in the main range, about 
7,500 feet high at its central point. The 
saddle is about five miles wide, with high 
mountains on either side. The trail runs 
about six miles through the Gap over a 
rocky, broken track, on which there is not 
enough level space to pitch a tent, and 
room enough for only one man to pass. 
From the Gap, the trail plunges downward 
to Myola, Kagi, Efogi, Menari, Nauro, 



KOKODA THRUST 



59 




JUNGLED MOUNTAIN RIDGES NEAR THE GAP in the Owen Stanleys. (Photo- 
graph taken November 1943.) 



Ioribaiwa, the Imita Range, and Uberi, 
traversing in its course mountain peaks 
5,000 and 6,000 feet high, and sharp, east- 
west ridges whose altitude is from 3,000 to 
4,000 feet. The southern edge of the range 
is at Koitaki, about thirty miles from Port 
Moresby by road, where the elevation is 
2,000 feet. 

From Kokoda to Templeton's Crossing 
the trail climbs 6,000 feet in less than twenty 
miles as it crosses a series of knife- edged 
ridges. The peaks in the area rise as high 
as 9,000 feet, and the valleys, whose sides 
slope as much as 60 percent from the hori- 
zontal, descend as low as 1 ,000 feet. Ridges 
rising from creeks and river beds are 1,500 



to 2,000 feet high, and the soil in the valleys 
has up to thirty feet of humus and leaf mold. 
The area is perpetually wet, the rainfall at 
3,000 feet being 200 and 300 inches a 
year. 

The situation is only slightly better be- 
tween Myola and Uberi. There are still 
knife-edges and razorbacks, but now they 
are not as precipitous as before. The gorges, 
though deeper and with denser under- 
growth, are less frequent, but they are still 
extremely hard to cross. Not till the trail 
reaches Koitaki does the going moderate. 
It was a moot point whether a large, fully 
equipped force could complete the difficult 
march from Kokoda to Koitaki, in the face 



60 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



of determined opposition, and still be in 
condition to launch an effective attack on 
Port Moresby when it got there. Yet it was 
by an advance over this trail that the Jap- 
anese proposed to take Port Moresby. 2 

The Enemy Plans a Reconnaissance 

The Japanese did not act recklessly in their 
attempt to send troops over the Owen 
Stanley Range. On 14 June, six days after 
Midway, General Hyakutake, commander 
of the 17th Army, was told to prepare for 
an overland attack on Port Moresby. Gen- 
eral Hyakutake, then on his way to Davao, 
was specifically cautioned not to order 
major forces under his command to New 
Guinea until the trail had been thoroughly 
reconnoitered, and the operation found to 
be feasible. He was told that his forces were 
to be held in readiness for instant action 
should the reconnaissance have a favorable 
result. General Horii, commander of the 
Nankai Shitai, was to have the immediate 
responsibility for the operation. The 15th 
Independent Engineer Regiment, a highly 
trained and well-equipped combat engineer 
unit stationed at Davao, which had dis- 
tinguished itself in combat in Malaya, would 
be assigned to General Horii to perform the 
reconnaissance. 3 



2 G-2 Daily Summary Enemy Intel No. 123, 
24 Jul 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA ; Osmar White, 
Notes on Owen Stanley Fighting in New Guinea, 
15 Sep 42, copy in OCMH files; ALF Rpt on New 
Guinea Opns Buna-Ioribaiwa; NGF, Notes on 
Opns in New Guinea, Ser 3; AGS, SWPA, Terrain 
Study No. 28, Main Routes Across New Guinea, 18 
Oct 42, in OCMH files; Survey Northeast New 
Guinea and Papua, 15 Jul 43, in G-2 WDGS Files. 

3 AMF, Interr Gen Adachi et al.; SEATIC Hist 
Bui No. 243, 1 Oct 46, Hist Japanese 28th Army; 
17th Army Opns, I, 10-12; 18th Army, Opns, I, 8- 
9; Southeast Area Naval Opns, I, 7. Nankai Shitai 
was the Japanese name for South Seas Detachment. 



On 29 June the engineer regiment, with 
supporting antiaircraft, communications, 
medical, and service troops, was ordered to 
Rabaul, and General Horii flew to Davao 
on the 30th to receive his orders from Gen- 
eral Hyakutake for the reconnaissance. 
Hyakutake issued the orders the next day, 
1 July. They provided that the force making 
the reconnaissance was to consist of the en- 
gineer regiment, an infantry battalion of the 
Nankai Shitai, the 47th Field Antiaircraft 
Artillery Battalion, and supporting troops. 
The force was to be under command of Col. 
Yosuke Yokoyama, commander of the en- 
gineer regiment. Yokoyama's mission was to 
land in the Buna area, advance rapidly to 
Kokoda and "the mountain pass south of 
Kokoda," and reconnoiter the trail leading 
from it to Port Moresby. He was to report 
to General Horii as quickly as possible on 
the state of the Buna -Kokoda "road" and 
on all possible routes of advance from Ko- 
koda to Port Moresby. Horii, in turn, was 
to pass on the information to higher head- 
quarters with an indorsement setting forth 
his views on the feasibility of the proposed 
operation.* 

On 1 1 July, with Colonel Yokoyama on 
his way from Davao to Rabaul, the Army 
Section of Imperial General Headquarters 
gave General Hyakutake the go-ahead sig- 
nal for the reconnaissance. Hyakutake 
passed the orders on to General Horii, who 
at once worked out an agreement with the 
Navy and the naval air force at Rabaul for 
the escort and support of Colonel Yoko- 
yama's force. The latter force reached Ra- 



* 15th Indep Engr Regt Opns Orders No. A- 
124, 24 Jun 42, in ATIS CT 21, No. 276; 17th 
Army Opns Orders, n. n., 1 Jul 42, quoted in 17th 
Army Opns, I, 12-13. 



KOKODA THRUST 



61 



baul on the 14th, and two days later Horii 
ordered Yokoyama to "carry out a landing 
near Basabua, and quickly occupy a strate- 
gic line south of Kokoda in order to recon- 
noiter the route over which it is intended 
to advance." If he found it out of the ques- 
tion to advance beyond Kokoda, he was 
to occupy and hold the area from the coast 
westward to the Owen Stanley Range. 
Yokoyama was specifically ordered to put 
the "road" east of the Owen Stanley Range 
in condition to handle motor traffic, and to 
prepare the "roads" in the mountains for 
the use, if not of vehicles, at least of pack 
horses. 5 

On 18 July, on the eve of the departure 
of the Yokoyama Force for Buna, General 
Hyakutake prepared a plan looking to the 
capture not only of Port Moresby but also 
of a flanking position at Samarai, a small 
island just off the southeast tip of New 
Guinea. Samarai had an excellent harbor 
and in prewar days had been a trading 
center of considerable importance. The 
Japanese, who as yet knew nothing of what 
was going on at Milne Bay, wanted Samarai 
(where they believed there was a small 
Allied garrison ) in order to establish a sea- 
plane base there for use in the attack on 
Port Moresby. The plan provided that the 
entire strength of the 17 th Army — the 
South Seas Detachment at Rabaul, the 
Aoba and Yazawa Detachments at Davao, 
and the Kawaguchi Detachment at Palau — 
would be committed to these operations. 
The South Seas Detachment, with the sup- 



° Nankai Shitai (Horii) Opns Orders No. A-85, 
13 Jul 42 ; Yokoyama Adv Tai Opns Orders No. A— 
2, 16 Jul 42. Both in ATIS CT 29, No. 131. 17th 
Army Opns, I, 13, 20, 21. 



port of the Yazawa Detachment, would take 
Port Moresby by an advance over the 
mountains, and the Navy, aided by the 
Kawaguchi Detachment, would seize Sa- 
marai. The Aoba Detachment would re- 
main in army reserve. 6 

The Japanese apparently were no longer 
interested in a thorough reconnaissance of 
the Kokoda Trail. The mission of the Yoko- 
yama Force had changed. Instead of being 
primarily a reconnaissance force, it had be- 
come an advance echelon. Its mission was 
not so much reconnaissance as to secure a 
firm foothold in the Buna-Kokoda area. 
When that was done, the main force would 
arrive and do the rest. 

The Japanese Strike Inland 
The Yokoyama Force Departs 

The Yokoyama Force was quickly in 
readiness for the operation. Its troop list in- 
cluded the 1st Battalion, 144th Infantry, the 
15th Independent Engineer Regiment (less 
one company and two platoons), a detach- 
ment of the 10th Independent Engineers, a 
company of the 55th Mountain Artillery, a 
company oiSasebo 5th Special Naval Land- 
ing Force, the 47th Field Antiaircraft Artil- 
lery Battalion (less two companies), several 
signal units, a field hospital section, and a 
service unit that included supply, transport, 
water-purification, and port battalion 
troops. Attached to this force of about 1,800 
men were 100 naval laborers from Formosa, 
52 horses, and 1,200 Rabaul natives im- 



5 Ltr, Gen Willoughby to Gen Ward, 12 Apr 51 ; 
17 th Army Opns Orders, 18 Jul 42, quoted in 17th 
Army Opns, I, 15-16, and dated in error 18 Jun. 



62 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



pressed by the Japanese to act as porters and 
laborers. 7 

The Yokoyama Force received its instruc- 
tions on 16 July and left for Buna four days 
later with an advance unit of the Sasebo 5th 
Special Naval Landing Force, in three heav- 
ily escorted transports. 8 Effective diversions 
were mounted in support of the Yokoyama 
Force. As the convoy sped to its target, Jap- 
anese naval troops massed at Lae and Sala- 
maua launched heavy raids upon Mubo and 
Komiatum in the Bulolo Valley, the two 
most forward outposts of Kanga Force. In 
addition, Japanese submarines, which had 
been operating off the east coast of Australia 
since early June, stepped up their activity 



7 Annex No. 3, 17 Jul 42, to Horii Opns Order 
No. A-85, 13 Jul 42; Yokoyama Adv Force Orders 
No. 1, 16 Jul 42, in ATIS CT 4, No. 103; No. A- 
3, 17 Jul 42; No. A-5, 18 Jul 42. Both in ATIS 
GT 29, No. 131. Rad, GofS 17 th Army to CO 
Yazawa Det, 30 Jul 42; 17th Army Intel Summary 
No. 5, 7 Aug 42. Both in ATIS EP No. 28. AMF, 
Interr General Adachi et al; 17th Army Opns, I, 
20-21. There is no authoritative figure for the total 
strength of the Yokoyama Force. Troop strength, 
less the infantry battalion, is known to have been 
1,115 men. Allowing 700 men for the battalion 
would bring the total strength to 1,800, the figure 
given. 

8 Yokoyama Adv Tai Orders No. 2, 16 Jul 42, in 
ATIS CT 4, No. 103; No. A-3, 17 Jul 42, in ATIS 
GT 29, No. 131; Fid Log Sakigawa Tai, 16 Jul-7 
Aug 42. It will be recalled that several transports 
had been glimpsed that day — the 20th — by Allied 
reconnaissance leaving Rabaul at approximately the 
same time that a naval force of cruisers and destroy- 
ers had been sighted standing due north of Talasea. 
Oddly enough, the troops seen three days earlier on 
the trawlers at Talasea, whose presence there had 
led Colonel Larr and General Van Volkenburgh to 
conclude that a landing in the Buna area was immi- 
nent, did not figure in the landing at all. Why the 
troops were in the Talasea area is unknown. The 
only conjecture which seems to fit the circumstances 
is that a portion of the South Seas Detachment may 
have been practicing amphibious landings in the 
Talasea area at the time. 



and sank four Allied merchantmen the very 
day of the landing. 9 

The landing cost the Japanese one ship, 
the transport Ayatozan Maru, which Allied 
air units caught and sank as it was unloading 
off Gona. Forty men and a number of ve- 
hicles were lost with the ship. The other two 
transports, whose cargo had already been 
unloaded when the air attack began, man- 
aged to escape without damage, as did their 
escort. 10 

It had been agreed that Buna would be 
a naval installation, and the advance unit of 
the Sasebo Naval Landing Force was sent 
there immediately on landing. Colonel 
Yokoyama chose Giruwa, about three and 
a half miles east of the anchorage, as the site 
of the Army base and immediately ordered 
all Army troops there. The evening of the 
landing an advance force under Lt. Col. 
Hatsuo Tsukamoto, commander of the in- 
fantry battalion, was organized at Giruwa 
and sent southward. The force was com- 
posed of the infantry battalion, an attached 
regimental signal unit, and a company of 
the 15th Independent Engineers. Tsuka- 
moto, whose orders were "to push on night 



9 Msg, Airintel, Port Moresby, to Airintel, NE 
Area, 9 Jul 42; Msg, NGF to ALF, Melbourne, 
No. G-3095, 17 Jul 42 ; Msg, Port Moresby to ACH, 
Townsville, No. 4167, 18 Jul 42: GHQ Sitrep No. 
312, 21 Jul 42; Msg, ACH, Townsville, to COIC, 
Brisbane, No. 4638, 22 Jul 42 ; G-2 Daily Summary 
Enemy Intel No. 122, 22-23 Jul 42. All in G-3 
Jnl. GHQ SWPA. 

10 Fid Log Sakigawa Tai, Jul-Aug 42; AMF 
Interr Gen Adachi et al.; 17th Army Intel Rpt No. 
3, 30 Jul 42; 17th Army Opns, I, 21; Naval Ac- 
count, Japanese Invasion Eastern New Quinea, pp. 
16-17. The hulk of the sunken ship, which came to 
be known familiarly as "the Gona wreck," was sub- 
sequently investigated by Allied patrols and "defi- 
nitely identified as the Ayatozan Maru." ALF Daily 
Opns Rpt No. 294, 2 Feb 43. 



KOKODA THRUST 



63 



and day to the line of the mountain range," 
appears to have taken them literally. The 
attacking force, about 900 men, made its 
first bivouac that night just outside of So- 
puta, a point about seven miles inland, and 
by the following afternoon was approach- 
ing Wairopi. 11 

The Onset 

Only light opposition faced the Japanese. 
Maroubra Force, the Australian force 
charged with the defense of Kokoda and 
the Kokoda Trail, still had most of the 39th 
Australian Infantry Battalion on the Port 
Moresby side of the range. Only Company 
B and the 300-man Papuan Infantry Bat- 
talion were in the Buna— Kokoda area at the 
time of the landing. Company B, 129 men at 
full strength, was at Kokoda; the PIB, part 
of whose strength was on patrol miles to the 
north, was at Awala, a few miles east of 
Wairopi. 

A grueling overland march from Port 
Moresby had brought Company B to Ko- 
koda on 12 July. Its heavy supplies and ma- 
chine guns reached Buna by sea on the 1 9th ; 
and company headquarters and one platoon, 
under the company commander, Capt. 
Samuel V. Templeton, set out from Ko- 
koda the same day to bring them in. After 
picking up the supplies and machine guns, 
Templeton had almost returned to Kokoda 
when the Japanese landed. He turned back 
at once when he heard the news, and made 



11 Yokoyama Adv Tai Orders No. A-2, 16 Jul 42 ; 
Fid Log, Sakigawa Tai, Jul-Aug 42; Rac 1 , Maj 
Toyenari Toyofuku, 17th Army Liaison Offr to CG 
17th Army, 23 Jul 42; Yokoyama Adv Tai Rpt, 23 
Jul 42. Last two in ATIS EP 28. COIC Rpt No. 
3 16, 25 Jul 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; 17th Army 
Opns, I, 21. 



at top speed for Awala to reinforce the 
PIB. 12 

A PIB patrol first sighted the Japanese at 
1750, 22 July, a few miles from Awala. The 
enemy struck at Awala the following after- 
noon just as the headquarters of Company 
B and its accompanying platoon reached the 
area. After a short skirmish, Templeton's 
force withdrew, taking up a defensive posi- 
tion that night just short of the Wairopi 
Bridge. The next day, with the enemy clos- 
ing in, it pulled back over the bridge and de- 
molished it before the Japanese could make 
the crossing. 13 

The thrust toward Kokoda caught General 
Morris, who, as G.O.C. New Guinea Force, 
was in command at Port Moresby, at a pain- 
ful disadvantage. He had been ordered to 
get the rest of the 39th Battalion to Kokoda 
with all speed, as soon as the Japanese 
landed, 14 but found himself unable immedi- 
ately to comply with the order. The problem 
was that four companies of the 39th Bat- 
talion (Headquarters Company and three 
rifle companies) were on the Port Moresby 
side of the mountains, including a rifle com- 
pany in the foothills outside Port Moresby, 



12 NGF OIs, No. 16, 12 Jun 42, No. 18, 25 Jun 
42, No. 20, 22 Jul 42 ; Brig S. H. Porter, Report on 
Part Played by 30th Australian Infantry Brigade 
Headquarters in the Owen Stanley Ranges, copy in 
OCMH files; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, 
Buna— Ioribaiwa. 

11 COIC Rpt No. 316, 25 Jul 42 ; Msg, Gen Mar- 
Arthur to Gen Marshall, No. C-160, CM-IN 9267, 
26 Jul 42; Yokoyama Adv Tai Rpt, 27 Jul 42, in 
ATIS EP 29; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, 
Buna-Ioribaiwa ; NGF, Notes on Opns in New 
Guinea, Ser 3. 

" Msg, Gen Chamberlin to ALF, No. 4393, 22 
Jul 42 ; Msg, ALF to MilComd, Port Moresby, No. 
G-34393, 22 Jul 42: Transcript, eel conversation, 
Col E. L. Sheehan, ALF, G-3 Sec, GHQ SWPA, 
to Brig R. N. L. Hopkins, ALF Hq, 23 Jul 42. All 
in 385, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 



64 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



and there was only one small aircraft at Port 
Moresby capable of landing on the small 
and extremely rough airfield at Kokoda. 

Morris did what he could. The battalion 
commander, Lt. Col. William T. Owen, was 
immediately ordered to Kokoda by air in 
the one plane capable of landing there; 
Company C, the rifle company in the west- 
ern foothills of the range, was ordered to 
march on Kokoda as quickly as possible; 
and the remaining three companies of the 
battalion, still at Port Moresby, were put 
on the alert for early movement to Kokoda 
by air if enough aircraft of a type capable 
of landing at Kokoda could be secured in 
time. 15 

The Fall of Kokoda 

Colonel Owen had been instructed to 
make a stand immediately east of Kokoda, 
and, if that failed, to take up a position 
south of it. He arrived at Kokoda on 24 
July to find that there was little he could do 
to stop the onrush of the Japanese. The 
demolition of the Wairopi Bridge had not 
held them up long. By the 25th, they had a 
hasty bridge over the Kumusi and were ad- 
vancing rapidly on Kokoda. Captain Tem- 
pleton (whose original force of little more 
than a platoon had by this time been rein- 
forced by a second platoon of Company B) 
made a desperate stand that day at Gorari, 
about eight miles west of Wairopi. The 
Japanese, attacking with mortars, machine 
guns, and light field pieces, quickly out- 
flanked him and forced him to withdraw 



15 NGF OI No. 20, 22 Jul 42; ALF, Rpt on New 
Guinea Opns, Buna-Ioribaiwa ; NGF, Notes on 
Opns in New Guinea, Ser 3. The Australian bat- 
talion consisted at this time of four rifle companies 
and a large Headquarters Company to which were 
assigned the heavy weapons, communications, trans- 
port, supply, and mess personnel of the battalion. 



to Oivi, a point in the steep foothills of the 
range, only eight miles by trail from 
Kokoda. 

General Morris had meanwhile been 
making every effort to get men forward. 
Early on 26 July, the small transport air- 
craft at his disposal made two flights to 
Kokoda, bringing in thirty men from Com- 
pany D. Holding half of them at Kokoda, 
Colonel Owen sent the other half on to Oivi 
where Captain Templeton was trying to 
hold in the face of heavy odds. The resist- 
ance at Oivi did not last long. Templeton 
was killed that afternoon, and his tiny force 
was outflanked and encircled. 

Colonel Owen now had no choice but to 
evacuate Kokoda, and did so just before 
midnight. After he sent New Guinea Force 
notice of the evacuation, Owen's force — the 
rest of Company B, and the incoming fif- 
teen men of Company D — crossed over the 
western side of Eora Creek Gorge. It took 
up previously prepared positions at Deniki, 
five miles southwest of Kokoda, and was 
joined next day by those of the Oivi force 
who had succeeded in extricating them- 
selves during the night from the Japanese 
encirclement." 

The Fight To Retake the Airfield 

New Guinea Force received Owen's evac- 
uation message late on the morning of 27 
July. By then the arrival from Australia of 
another plane had given General Morris' 
headquarters two aircraft suitable for the 
Kokoda run, and both of them were in the 

19 NGF OI No. 20, 22 Jul 42 ; Adm Inst to NGF 
OI No. 20, 22 Jul 42 ; G-2 Daily Summary Enemy 
Intel No. 126, 26 Jul 42; Special App to COIC 
Sitrep No. 318, 27 Jul 42. All in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA. AFL, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, Buna- 
Ioribaiwa; NGF, Rpt on Opns in New Guinea, 
Ser 3. 



KOKODA THRUST 



65 



air at the time loaded with troops and sup- 
plies. They were at once recalled to Port 
Moresby. Next morning Owen counter- 
attacked and, after some bitter hand-to-hand 
fighting, drove the Japanese out of Kokoda. 
Owen was now desperately in need of the 
very reinforcements that New Guinea Force 
had recalled the previous day. Unfortunate- 
ly the message that he had regained Kokoda 
did not reach Port Moresby until late in the 
afternoon, too late for action that day. 
Meanwhile, two more planes had come 
from Australia. New Guinea Force, now 
with four transports that could land at Ko- 
koda, planned to fly in a full infantry com- 
pany with mortar and antiaircraft elements 
the first thing in the morning. The planes 
were never sent. At dawn on the 29th, the 
Japanese counterattacked and, after two 
hours of fighting during which Colonel 
Owen was killed, again drove the Austra- 
lians out of Kokoda. 17 

Australian reinforcements had mean- 
while begun arriving in the forward area on 
foot. Company C reached Deniki on 31 
July, followed the next day by Company A. 
By 7 August, all five companies of the 39th 
Battalion were at the front, and Maroubra 
Force totaled 480 men. Supplies were being 
manhandled over the trail by the incoming 
troops, and by hundreds of native carriers 
under the supervision of ANGAU. Food and 
ammunition were also being dropped from 
the air — a dry lake bed at Myola, a few 
miles southeast of Kagi, the forward supply 



" Yokoyama Adv Tai Rpt, 29 Jul 42; Msg, Maj 
Toyofuku to CofS, 17th Army, No. 216, 31 Jul 42. 
Both in ATIS EP 28 ALF, Rpt on New Guinea 
Opns, Buna-Ioribaiwa ; NGF, Notes on Opns ir 
New Guinea, Ser 3. Colonel Owen was posthum- 
ously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the 
first Australian infantryman to receive the decora- 
tion in World War II. The citation is in GO No. 1 1 . 
GHQ SWPA, 22 Jan 43. 



base, served as the main dropping ground. 18 
There were patrol clashes on 7 and 8 
August, and early on 10 August Maroubra 
Force, which estimated enemy strength at 
Kokoda as no more than 400 men counter- 
attacked. Three companies were committed 
to the assault, with the remaining two held 
in reserve. While one company engaged the 
Japanese to the south of Kokoda, a second 
moved astride the Kokoda— Oivi track via 
the Abuari-Missima-Fila cutoff and en- 
gaged them to the east of Kokoda. The third 
company marched undetected on Kokoda 
and took possession of the airfield that after- 
noon without suffering a single casualty. 

The success was short-lived. The com- 
pany astride the Japanese rear had to be 
ordered back to Deniki to stem a powerful 
enemy attack on that point, and the com- 
pany holding the airfield (whose position 
had in any event become untenable) had 
to evacuate it on the night of 1 1-12 August 
because of a critical shortage of supplies.' !l 
Colonel Yokoyama was now ready to 
attack with his full force. Early on 13 
August, he struck the Australian position 
at Deniki with about 1,500 men. The Aus- 
tralians were forced to yield not only Deniki 
but also Isurava five miles away. The Japa- 



,s COIC Sitreps No. 320, 23-29 Jul 42, No. 332, 
9-10 Aug 42, G-2 SWPA Daily Summaries Enemy 
Intel No. 129, 29-30 Jul 42, No. 130, 30-31 Jul 42: 
GHQ SWPA OI No. 15, 6 Aug 42. All in G-3 Jnl, 
GHQ SWPA. ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, 
Buna-Ioribaiwa ; NGF, Notes on Opns in New 
Guinea, Ser 3. 

'"ALF Daily Opns Rpts, No. 117, 10 Aug 42, 
and No. 121, 14 Aug 42; COIC Sitreps No. 332, 
10 Aug 42, No. 334, 12 Aug 42, No. 336, 14 Aug 
42; G-2 Daily Summaries Enemy Intel No. 135, 
3-4 Aug 42, No. 140, 9-10 Aug 42; G-3 Opns Rpts 
No. 125, 11 Aug 42, No. 129, 15 Aug 42; Memo, 
Gen Chamberlin for Gen Sutherland, 14 Aug 42. 
All in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. NGF, Notes on Opns 
in New Guinea, Ser 3. 



66 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



nese, having no intention at the moment of 
going any farther, began to dig in. 20 

Kokoda and the Buna-Kokoda track 
were now firmly in Japanese hands, and a 
base had been established for the advance 
on Port Moresby through the Gap. Ac- 
cording to plan, the move was to be under- 
taken as soon as General Horii and the main 
body of the South Seas Detachment 
reached the scene of operations. 

The Main Force Arrives 
The Joint Agreement of 31 July 

General Hyakutake arrived at Rabaul 
from Davao on 24 July to find that Colonel 
Yokoyama had been reporting good prog- 
ress in his thrust on Kokoda. As the news 
from Yokoyama continued good, Hyaku- 
take, seeing no reason for further delay, rec- 
ommended to Imperial General Headquar- 
ters that the overland operation be under- 
taken at once. Tokyo, which had been well 
disposed to the project from the first, 
quickly gave its blessing and, on 28 July, 
ordered the operation to be mounted as 
quickly as possible. 21 

Three days later, on the 31st, General 
Hyakutake concluded a joint Army-Navy 
agreement with Vice Adm. Nichizo Tsuka- 
hara, commander of the 11th Air Fleet, 
and Vice Adm. Gunichi Mikawa, com- 
mander of the newly established 8th Fleet. 



l " ALF Opns Rpt, No. 122, 15 Aug 42, in G-3 
Jr.], GHQ SWPA ; / 7th Army Intel Summary No. 4, 
1 7 Aug 42 ; Yazaw a Butai Intel Rpt No. 3, 1 7 Aug 
42, in ATIS EP 28; AMF, Interr of Gen Adachi 
et ai; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, Buna- 
loribaiwa; NGF, Notes on Opns in New Guinea, 
Ser 3. 

'^ISth Army Opns, I, 9; USSBS, Interrogation 
of Japanese Officials, II, 525. 



Mikawa had just taken over control of naval 
operations in the New Guinea-Bismarcks- 
Solomons area from the 4th Fleet. After 
stating that the seizure of Port Moresby and 
other key points in eastern New Guinea was 
necessary in order to secure control of the 
Coral Sea, the three commanders adopted 
a basic plan of attack patterned closely on 
the draft plan which General Hyakutake 
had prepared on 18 July, thirteen days be- 
fore. 

The plan provided that General Horii, 
with both the South Seas Detachment and 
the Yazawa Detachment under his com- 
mand, would move on Port Moresby via 
Kokoda, and that the Kawaguchi Detach- 
ment, supported by units of the 8th Fleet, 
would take Samarai. As soon as Samarai 
was taken, a "Port Moresby Attack Force/' 
consisting of the Kawaguchi Detachment 
and elements of the 8th Fleet would be or- 
ganized there. Then, in a move timed to 
coincide with diversionary attacks on the 
Bulolo Valley by the naval troops at Lae and 
Salamaua, the attack force would embark 
for Port Moresby, attacking it from the 
sea at the precise moment that the South 
Seas and Yazawa Detachments cleared the 
mountains and began attacking it from 
landward. 

The agreement provided specifically that 
all the forces at the disposal of the partici- 
pating commanders would be available for 
these operations, which were to begin on 
X Day, the day that the main body of the 
South Seas Detachment arrived at Buna. 
X Day was set as 7 August, the date, inter- 
estingly enough, of the projected American 
landing at Guadalcanal. 22 



22 Ltr, Gen Willoughby to Gen Ward, 12 Apr 51 ; 
17th Army Opns I, 9; Southeast Area Naval Opns 
I, 8. 



KOKODA THRUST 



67 



Under the joint agreement of 31 July, 
the 8th Fleet had undertaken to have the 
airfields at Buna and Kokoda in operation 
when the main force landed. But this proj- 
ect was not to be easily accomplished. On 
29 and 31 July the Allied Air Force caught 
the enemy supply ships, laden with vehicles 
and construction materials for the field, 
while they were en route to Buna. The 
Kotoku Maru was lost and the rest were 
obliged to return to Rabaul with their 
cargo undelivered. These mishaps, and the 
discovery that the airfield site at Buna was 
very soggy and could not possibly be put 
into readiness by 7 August, caused X Day 
to be moved forward to 16 August. 23 

The Landings in the Solomons 

Pursuant to the Joint Directive of 2 July, 
the 1st Marine Division, reinforced, went 
ashore on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and adjoin- 
ing islands in the southern Solomons early 
on 7 August. The Americans quickly dis- 
persed the weak forces the enemy had on 
the islands, including a few hundred garri- 
son troops and a couple of thousand naval 
construction troops on Guadalcanal. By the 
evening of 8 August the marines were in 
control of Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo 
and held the airfield at Lunga Point on 
Guadalcanal, the main objective of the 
landings. 

The 8th Fleet had been busy gathering 



23 Rpt, Comdr Kusen Tai, 29 Jul 42; Rad, CofS 
17 th Army to Yazawa Butai, 30 Jul 42. Both in 
ATIS EP 28. Fid Log Sakigawa Tai, Jul-Aug 42, in 
ATIS EP 27; Ltr, Gen Willoughby to Gen Ward, 
12 Apr 51 ; 17th Army Opns I, 22; Naval Account, 
Japanese Invasion Eastern New Guinea, p. 18. 
Although the Kotoku Maru was sunk, 263 of the 
men aboard, mostly troops of the 15th Independent 
Engineers, managed to get safely to Giruwa in 
motor launches. 



ships for the Port Moresby operation. 
Though caught off balance by the landings, 
it struck back vigorously during the early 
hours of 9 August. Entering the area be- 
tween Florida Island and Guadalcanal un- 
detected, the Japanese sank four heavy 
cruisers, including the Australian flagship 
Canberra which with other ships of Task 
Force 44, Admiral Leary's main force, was 
in the Solomons supporting the landings. 
That afternoon the Allied fleet pulled out 
of the area in accordance with a decision 
made the previous evening that its ships 
were vulnerable and would have to be with- 
drawn. No sooner was the withdrawal com- 
pleted than the 8th Fleet and the naval air 
units at Rabaul began a day-and-night 
harassment of the Marine landing force. 
The next step was to send in troops. 24 

Here the Japanese ran into difficulties. 
The 8th Fleet did not have enough naval 
troops at Rabaul and Kavieng to counter 
the American landings. The 17th Army, 
on the other hand, was at a loss to know 
which of its forces to order to Guadalcanal. 
The South Seas Detachment, its only unit 
at Rabaul, was committed to the Port 
Moresby operation, and the rest of its troops 
were out of reach at Davao and Palau. 
After much consultation between Tokyo 
and Rabaul, it was decided to use the Kawa- 
guchi Detachment, less one battalion, which 
would remain committed to the capture of 
Samarai and the subsequent landing at Port 
Moresby. Because there was no shipping 
immediately available at Palau with which 
to get the detachment to its destination, a 
further decision was made to have another 
force precede it. The Ichiki Detachment, 



"17th Army Opns I, 25, 26; Southeast Area 
Naval Op ns I, 1 1 ; M iller, Guadalcanal: The First 
Offensive, pp. 61—67. 



68 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



which was already at sea and in position to 
reach the target quickly, was given the 
assignment. 

These decisions had scarcely been made 
when Rabaul discovered for the first time 
that the Allies were building an airfield at 
Milne Bay and had a garrison there. It was 
a startling discovery. Realizing that their 
reconnaissances of the area had been faulty, 
and that they had almost attacked the wrong 
objective, the Japanese at once abandoned 
the Samarai operation and chose Rabi, near 
the head of Milne Bay, as the new target. 
It was to be taken by the same battalion 
of the Kawaguchi Detachment which had 
previously been assigned to the capture of 
Samarai, plus such naval landing units of 
the 8th Fleet as would be available at the 
time of the operation. 25 

The Japanese Build-up at Buna 

At Buna, meanwhile, the Japanese build- 
up was proceeding. It had been inter- 
rupted by the Allied landings in the south- 
ern Solomons, but not seriously. For ex- 
ample, a convoy carrying the 3,000 men of 
the 14th and 15th Naval Construction Units, 
their construction equipment, vehicles, and 
some army supplies had left Rabaul for 
Buna on 6 August. It was recalled next day 
by the 8th Fleet when it was only part of 
the way to its destination. Held over at 
Rabaul till the situation in the Solomons 
clarified itself, the convoy left Rabaul a sec- 
ond time on the night of 12 August and, 
though heavily attacked from the air on 
the way, reached Basabua safely the follow- 
ing afternoon. By early morning of the 14th, 
the ships were unloaded and on their way 



" Ltr, Gen Willoughby to Gen Ward, 12 Apr 51 : 
17th Army Opns I, 25-27, 27-29, 35-36. 



home. Next morning as work began on the 
Buna strip and on a dummy strip immedi- 
ately to the west of it, the ships, despite 
more air attacks, arrived back at Rabaul 
undamaged. 20 

The main body of the Nankai Shitai (less 
a rear echelon which was to come later) left 
Rabaul on 1 7 August in three escorted trans- 
ports. Aboard were Detachment Headquar- 
ters under General Horii; the 2d and 3d 
Battalions of the 144th Infantry with at- 
tached gun company, signal unit, and am- 
munition sections; the two remaining com- 
panies of the 55th Mountain Artillery; the 
rest of the 47th Field AAA Battalion; a 
company of the 55th Cavalry with attached 
antitank gun section; part of the divisional 
medical unit, a base hospital, a collecting 
station, and a divisional decontamination 
and water-purification unit. A naval liaison 
detachment, a couple of hundred more men 
of the Sasebo 5th Special Naval Landing 
Force, 700 more Rabaul natives, 170 horses, 
and a large tonnage of supplies were also 
in the convoy. 27 

Without being detected by Allied air units, 
the transports reached Basabua in the late 
afternoon of 1 8 August and were unloaded 



M Nankai Shitai Opns Order No. 96, 12 Aug 42, 
in ATIS CT 21, No. 267; G-2 Daily Summaries 
Enemy Intel, Allied Air Force Opns Rpts, Allied Air 
Force Recon Rpts, COIC Sitreps for the period 12 
through 15 Aug 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; 17 th 
Army Opns, I, 47-48; Naval Account, Japanese 
Invasion Eastern New Guinea, pp. 18-20. 

^Nankai Shitai Opns Orders No. 96, 12 Aug 42 
Annex No. 5, Table of Disposition of South Seas 
Detachment Aboard Ship, 15 Aug 42, in ATIS CT 
21, No. 267; No. 98, 18 Aug 42, No. 99, 21 Aug 
42, in ATIS EP 33; Yazawa Shitai Intel Rpt No. 3, 
in ATIS CT 24, No. 293 ; Naval Account, Japanese 
Invasion Eastern New Guinea, p. 19; 17th Army 
Opns, I, 47, 48. The date of the Shitai's arrival at 
the beachhead was moved up from 16 to 18 August 
because of the delays in getting the 14th and 15th 
Naval Construction Units there. 



KOKODA THRUST 



69 



quickly and without incident. Strangely 
enough, the transports were not attacked 
during the entire time they were at anchor, 
nor even while they were on their way back 
to Rabaul. The Allied Air Forces had been 
caught napping. The biggest prize of all, 
the main body of the Nankai Shitai and 
Detachment Headquarters, had landed 
safely. 

The Yazawa Detachment, the 41st In- 
fantry Regiment under its commander, Col. 
Kiyomi Yazawa, was next to go. The regi- 
ment, detached in March 1942 from the 5th 
Division, had distinguished itself in Malaya. 
Like the Nankai Shitai and the 15th Inde- 
pendent Engineers, it was a veteran force 
with a high reputation for aggressiveness. 
The Yazawa Force had reached Rabaul 
from Davao on 16 August and upon ar- 
rival had come under General Horii's com- 
mand as an integral part of the South Seas 
Detachment. 

Rabaul had planned to have the full 
strength of the regiment, plus the rear eche- 
lon of the Nankai Shitai, arrive at the beach- 
head together. At the last moment, however, 
it was decided to put aboard a large Army 
bridge-building and road-construction unit, 
numbering about a thousand men. This 
change in plan made it necessary to leave 
the rear echelon troops and one battalion 
of the 41st Infantry for a later convoy. As 
finally loaded on 18 August, the troop list 
included regimental headquarters and two 
battalions of the 41st Infantry, a regimen- 
tal gun unit, signal, ordnance and motor 
transport troops, a veterinary hospital, a 
water supply and purification unit, and the 
bridge-building and road-construction unit. 
Also aboard were a hundred more men of 
the Sasebo 5th Special Naval Landing 
Force, some 200 more Rabaul natives, 200 
more horses, several hundred cases of am- 



munition, five tons of medical supplies, a 
quantity of gasoline in drums, and large 
stores of food and fodder. 

The convoy left Rabaul on 19 August and 
landed at Basabua on 21 August in the 
midst of a storm. There was no interference 
from Allied aircraft, the ships unloaded 
safely, and the two battalions of the 41st In- 
fantry made their first bivouac that night at 
Popondetta about fifteen miles southeast of 
the anchorage. Except for some 1,500 
men — the rear echelon of the Nankai Shitai 
and the remaining battalion of the 41st In- 
fantry, which were due in the next convoy — 
the full allocation of troops for the overland 
push against Port Moresby had arrived at 
the scene of operations. 28 

Horii would have a hard time getting ad- 
ditional troops, for things had not gone well 
at Guadalcanal. The advance echelon of 
the Ichiki Detachment had reached the is- 
land on 19 August. Though the strength of 
the force was under a thousand men, its 
commander had attacked at once without 
waiting for reinforcements. The attacking 
force was cut to pieces, and General Hyak- 
utake, as a result, again had to change his 
plans. He returned the battalion of the Ka- 
waguchi Detachment, which had been 
scheduled for the Milne Bay operations, to 
its parent detachment for use in the Solo- 
mons. Hyakutake then earmarked the Aoba 

!S Yazawa Det Intel Rpts No. 2, 10 Aug 42, No. 3, 
17 Aug 42, in ATIS EP 28; Nankai Shitai Opns 
Orders No. 96, 12 Aug, with Annex [Myoko Maru 
and Yusukawa Maru] circa 18 Aug 42, Loading 
List, in ATIS CT 21, No. 267; No, 98, 18 Aug 42, 
in ATIS EP 33; 17th Army Intel Summaries No. 6, 
19 Aug 42, No. 9, 22 Aug 42, in ATIS EP 28; 
Tomita Butai Opns Orders No. 7, 19 Aug 42, No. 9, 
22 Aug 42, in ATIS CT 24, No. 299; 17th Army 
Opns, I, 21, 47-48; Naval Account, Japanese Inva- 
sion Eastern New Guinea, p. 19; G-2 SWPA Daily 
Summaries Enemy Intel, Allied Air Forces Opns 
Rpts ; COIC Sitreps, 18 through 22 Aug 42, in G-3 
Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



70 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Detachment, previously in Army reserve, 
as the landing force for the Milne Bay op- 
eration, thus leaving the Army without a 
reserve force upon which to call in case of 
need. 29 

General Horii Takes Over 

By this time General Horii had a substan- 
tial force at his disposal. A total of 8,000 
Army troops, 3,000 naval construction 
troops, and some 450 troops of the Sasebo 
5th Special Naval Landing Force had been 
landed safely in the Buna-Gona area since 
the Yokoyama Advance Force had hit the 
beach at Basabua a month before. 30 Even 
with combat losses which had been light, 
the desertion of some of the Rabaul natives, 
and the diversion of a substantial portion 
of his combat strength for essential supply 
and communication activities, it was still 
a formidable force. But whether such a force 
would be able to cross the Owen Stanley 
Mountains in the face of determined oppo- 
sition and still be in condition to launch a 
successful attack on Port Moresby when it 
reached the other side, even General Horii, 
poised as he was for the operation, proba- 
bly would have found it difficult to answer. 

General Willoughby, General MacAr- 
thur's G-2, while admitting the possibility 
that the Japanese might attempt to cross 
the mountains in force, found it hard to be- 
lieve, with the terrain what it was, that they 
would seriously contemplate doing so. His 
stated belief in late July was that the Jap- 
anese undertook seizure of the Buna-Gona- 

'"17th Army Opns, I, 27, 36. 

M Naval Account, Japanese Invasion Eastern New 
Guinea, p. 20. These are the official figures of the 
8th Fleet, which transported the troops, and are 
believed to be accurate. 



Kokoda area primarily to secure advanced 
airfields in the favorable terrain afforded 
by the grass plains area at Dobodura. They 
needed the airfields, he submitted, in order 
to bring Port Moresby and the Cape York 
Peninsula under attack, and also to support 
a possible coastwise infiltration to the south- 
east which would have as its culmination 
joint Army and Navy operations against 
both Port Moresby and Milne Bay. He con- 
ceded that the Japanese might go as far as 
the Gap in order to establish a forward out- 
post there, but held it extremely unlikely 
that they would go further in view of the 
fantastically difficult terrain beyond. 31 

On 12 August, with two landings com- 
pleted, and a third expected momentarily, 
General Willoughby still held that "an over- 
land advance in strength is discounted in 
view of logistic difficulties, poor communi- 
cations, and difficult terrain." On 18 
August, the day that the main body of the 
Nankai Shitai landed at Basabua, he again 
gave it as his belief that the enemy's purpose 
seemed to be the development of an air base 
for fighters and medium bombers at Do- 
bodura and that, while more pressure could 
be expected in the Kokoda-Gap area, "an 
overland movement in strength is dis- 
counted in view of the terrain." 32 

On 21 August, almost a week after the 
activity began, Allied air reconnaissance 
discovered for the first time that the Japa- 
nese were lengthening the small low-lying 
emergency landing strip at Buna which 
Colonel Robinson had reported as unsuit- 



31 G-2 SWPA Daily Summaries Enemy Intel, No. 
126, 26-27 Jul 42, No. 127, 27-28 Jul 42, No. 129, 
29-30 Jul 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 

33 G-2 Daily Summaries Enemy Intel No. 142, 
11-12 Aug 42, No. 148, 17-18 Aug 42. 



KOKODA THRUST 



71 



able for military use. 3,1 The discovery that 
the Japanese were building airfields in the 
Buna area (if only at Buna rather than as 
they might have done at Dobodura) led 
General Willoughby to the conclusion that 
here at last was the explanation for the 
Japanese seizure of the beachhead. The fact 
that they had done so, he thought, had 
nothing to do with a possible thrust through 
the mountains, for an overland operation 
against Port Moresby was to be "discounted 

M COIC Sitrcp No. 343, 21 Aug 42, with Attchd 
Photo Intel Ser No. 178, Buna Runway, No. 345, 
23 Aug 42: G-2 Daily Summary Enemy Intel No. 
152, 21-22 Aug 42; Allied Air Forces Recon Rpt, 
22 Aug 42. 



in view of the logistical difficulties of main- 
taining any force in strength" on the Ko- 
koda Trail. 34 

The same day that General Willoughby 
issued this estimate, General Horii, who had 
previously been at Giruwa, left the beach- 
head for Kokoda to take personal charge of 
the advance through the Gap. 33 The over- 
land operation against Port Moresby, which 
General Willoughby had been so thor- 
oughly convinced the Japanese would not 
undertake, was about to begin. 

34 G-2 Daily Summary Enemy Intel No. 152, 21- 
22 Aug 42. 

35 Nankai Shitai Opns Orders No. A-99, 20 Aug 
42, No. 100, 21 Aug 42, in ATIS EP 33. 



CHAPTER VI 



The Japanese Offensive Collapses 



Ten days after the first Japanese landing 
at Basabua Admiral King wrote to Gen- 
eral Marshall that, while he was willing to 
assume that General MacArthur was "tak- 
ing all measures in his power to deny the 
threat of Japanese penetration toward Port 
Moresby," he doubted that the measures 
taken (which he described as "airpower 
supported by minor ground forces north of 
the Owen Stanley Mountains") would be 
successful. Since, in his opinion, the hold- 
ing of Port Moresby and the Buna-Gona 
area was essential to the ultimate success of 
operations in both the South and Southwest 
Pacific Areas, he asked that General Mar- 
shall obtain from General MacArthur by 
dispatch the latter's "views as to the present 
situation in New Guinea, and his plan to 
deny further advance to the Japanese, pend- 
ing execution of Task Two." 1 General Mar- 
shall replied the next day. He agreed, he 
said, with the assumption that General 
MacArthur was taking all measures in his 
power to deny the Japanese threat, but he 
felt it was "a little early to assume that such 
measures [would] be unsuccessful." Ad- 
miral King was assured, however, that Gen- 
eral MacArthur was being asked for his 
plan to counteract the Japanese offensive. 



1 Memo, Admiral King for Gen Marshall, 31 Jul 
42, sub: Japanese Operations, Northeast Coast of 
New Guinea, in 381, OPD PTO, Sec 2. 



Such a message had, in fact, gone out the 
day before. 2 

The SWPA: Early August 

General Mac Arthur's Accounting 

General MacArthur had a reassuring 
story to tell. He had just ordered the 7th 
Australian Infantry Division to New 
Guinea — the 18th Brigade to Milne Bay, 
and the 21st and 25th Brigades to Port 
Moresby. His plan of operations to prevent 
further enemy encroachment in New 
Guinea had been greatly hampered, he 
noted, by a critical shortage of transporta- 
tion, especially sea transport, and by a 
dearth of naval convoy ships to protect his 
supply routes. The work of defending the 
area had nevertheless gone on despite these 
difficulties. Before the defenses in New 
Guinea could be augmented, it had been 
necessary, as a first step, to move engineers 
and protective garrisons into the Towns- 
ville-Cloncurry area in order to complete 
a series of airfields there and to develop Port 
Moresby as an advance jump-off point for 
the air force. As a second step, the garrison 



2 Memo, Gen Marshall for Admiral King, 1 Aug 
42, sub: Japanese Operations, Northeast Coast of 
New Guinea, in 381, OPD PTO, Sec 2; Msg, Gen 
Marshall to Gen MacArthur, CM-OUT 9289, 31 
Jul 42. 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



73 



at Port Moresby was doubled to two bri- 
gades ; engineers and antiaircraft units were 
sent forward to develop and protect the dis- 
persal facilities in the area; and a begin- 
ning was made in developing and securing 
airfields in the Cape York Peninsula. As 
a succeeding step, airfields were built at 
Milne Bay and Merauke to cover Port 
Moresby from east and west, and troops 
were ordered forward to secure the crest of 
the range at Wau and Kokoda. 

The experienced 7th Australian Infantry 
Division would begin moving to the front 
within the next few days — one brigade to 
Milne Bay, the other two to Port Moresby. 
Seven transpacific ships, which would in 
due course be returned to their regular runs, 
were being requisitioned to get the division 
and its equipment forward. 

General MacArthur went on to say that 
the final solution to the problem of defend- 
ing New Guinea would, of course, come with 
the completion of Task One and the in- 
ception of Tasks Two and Three. After 
sketching a plan of maneuver for the latter 
two tasks, he told General Marshall that, 
while further preparations were necessary 
for Task Three, immediately after Task 
One was successfully completed Task Two 
could begin if the aircraft carriers and 
the Marine division with its amphibious 
equipment were made available for the 
operation. 3 

It was an excellent accounting. Starting 
in late March with only a few airfields in the 
Townsville-CIoncurry area and two poor 
fields at Port Moresby, General MacArthur 
by early August also had effective bases in 
the Cape York Peninsula, at Merauke, and 
at Milne Bay — a remarkable accomplish- 



3 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. Q 
147, CM-IN 1607, 2 Aug 42. 



ment in view of the appalling terrain, the 
shortage of engineer troops, and the diffi- 
culties of supply. 

General Rowell Takes Over 
in New Guinea 

On 6 August all Australian and American 
forces serving in Australian New Guinea 
(Papua and North East New Guinea) were 
put under New Guinea Force. On 9 August 
Maj. Gen. Sydney F. Rowell, General Of- 
ficer Commanding, 1st Australian Corps, 
took command of all forces in New Guinea. 
Nine days later, General Rowell became 
G. O. C. New Guinea Force. 4 

The orders of 6 August gave New Guinea 
Force a greatly expanded mission. It was 
to prevent further penetration of Australian 
New Guinea, hold the crest of the Owen 
Stanley Range, and retake Kokoda, the 
Buna-Gona area, and ultimately Lae and 
Salamaua. It was to carry out active recon- 
naissance of its area and the approaches 
thereto, maintain and augment Kanga 
Force, and establish a special force at Milne 
Bay. After infiltrating the northeast coast of 
Papua from East Cape to Tufi, the Milne 
Bay troops would join with the overland 
forces on the Kokoda trail in the capture 
of the Buna-Gona area. 5 

As General Rowell took command in New 
Guinea, the Japanese on the trail were at 
Isurava south of Kokoda. Radio intercepts 



1 GHQ SWPA OI No. 15, 6 Aug 42; LHQ OI 
No. 30, 9 Aug 42; NGF OI No. 24, 18 Aug 42. 
General Morris, who in addition to being G. O. C. 
New Guinea Force had also been Administrator of 
New Guinea and head of the Australia- New Guinea 
Administrative Unit, ANGAU, continued in the 
latter two capacities, thereby making it possible for 
General Rowell to concentrate exclusively on com- 
bat operations. 

° GHQ SWPA OI No. 15, 6 Aug 42. 



74 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



and documents captured by Kanga Force 
revealed that the Japanese intended to land 
at Samarai shortly. 6 The situation was in 
crisis, but the Allied defensive position was 
stronger than it appeared to be — much 
stronger, in fact, than had been thought pos- 
sible only a few short weeks before. 

The Defense Falls Into Place 
The North Queensland Bases 

By the third week in August three fields 
had been completed in the Cape York Pen- 
insula, one for fighters and two for heavy 
bombers. Three additional fields for heavy 
bombers were due to be completed by the 
end of September. The movement of avia- 
tion units, garrison troops, and supplies to 
the bases in northern Queensland was pro- 
ceeding but was not expected to be complete 
until sometime in October because of the 
emergency troop movements to Port Mores- 
by and Milne Bay, and the consequent 
shortage of shipping. 7 

To alleviate a critical shortage of U.S. 
engineer troops, 8 and to speed construction 

6 G-2 Daily Summary Enemy Intel, No. 135, 3-4 
Aug 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; ALF, Rpt on 
New Guinea Opns, Buna-Ioribaiwa. 

' Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 
C-301, CM-IN 7017, 19 Aug 42. 

8 General Casey had under his command on 1 
May 1942 a total of 6,240 U.S. Engineer construc- 
tion troops comprising the following units: the 43d 
and 46th General Service Engireer Battalions, the 
808th Engineer Aviation Battalion, the 91st and 
96th Separate Engineer Battalions, and the 576th 
and 585th Engineer Dump Truck Companies. The 
first three were white units; the remaining four, 
Negro. Except for the addition of the 69th Topo- 
graphical Company, and the expansion of the 91st 
and 96th Battalions to regiments, an increase since 
May of some 1,200 men, his command was substan- 
tially the same at the end of the year. OCE SWPA 
Annual Rpt, 1942; OCE SWPA, Location and 
Strength of U.S. Engineer Units, 31 Dec 42. Both 
in AFPAC Engr File. 



where it was most needed, arrangements 
were made in August to turn over the task 
of airfield construction and maintenance in 
northern Queensland and elsewhere on the 
mainland either to the RAAF or to the 
Allied Works Council, a civilian construc- 
tion agency of the Australian Government 
staffed for the most part by men who were 
over age or otherwise exempt from military 
duty. American engineer troops released 
in this way were at once transferred to New 
Guinea. The change-over was a gradual 
one, but by the end of the year almost all 
U.S. engineer troops in the Southwest 
Pacific Area were in New Guinea. 9 

Port Moresby 

By 19 August, Brig. A. W. Potts's 21st 
Australian Infantry Brigade, the leading 
brigade of the two 7 th Division brigades 
ordered to Port Moresby, had already ar- 
rived there. It did not tarry but began mov- 
ing at once to Isurava, where Maroubra 
Force — by this time a battalion and two 
companies of the 30th Brigade — was mak- 
ing a stand under the brigade commander, 
Brig. Selwyn H. Porter. The 25th Brigade, 
which was to follow the 21st, was delayed 
by the shipping shortage and was not ex- 
pected to arrive until early September. 

Even so, the Port Moresby garrison, with 
its three infantry brigades and its x\ustralian 
and American air, antiaircraft, engineer, 
and service units, already numbered 22,000 
men. When the 25th Brigade, 7th Division 
headquarters, and other divisional troops ar- 
rived, it would total 28,000. The seven-air- 

'Gen Casey, Memo for Record, 11 Aug 42, sub: 
Conference with Genera] Kenney, Air Vice Marshal 
William D. Bostock, and Lt Col R. E. Beebe; OCE 
SWPA, Draft Engr Rpt, 31 Dec 42. Both in AFPAC 
Engr Files. OCE, AFPAC, Engineers in Theater 
Operations (Washington, 1947), p. 38. 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



75 




PORT MORESBY as it looked when the headquarters of the U.S. Advanced Base in New 
Guinea was established there. 



field program projected for Port Moresby 
was nearing completion. Four fields were 
finished and in use — two for fighters, one 
for medium bombers, and one for heavy 
bombers. The three remaining fields — two 
for heavy bombers and one for medium 
bombers — were expected to be ready by 
early September. 10 

Plans to make Port Moresby a large sup- 
ply and communications area were well ad- 
vanced. On 11 August the U. S. Advanced 
Base in New Guinea was established by 
USASOS with headquarters at Port Mores- 
by. Its functions were to aid in the operation 
of the port and other ports in New Guinea, 



to control the activities of U. S. service 
troops in the area, and, in general, to pro- 
vide for the supply of all American troops 
in the battle zone. 11 

The port itself, shallow and suitable only 
for light traffic, was to be improved. Exist- 
ing facilities permitted only one ship to be 
unloaded at a time, and that very slowly, 
with the frequent result that as many as 
two or three others had to wait in the roads 
to unload, exposed all the while to enemy 
attack. Since the existing harbor site did 
not lend itself to expansion, General Casey 
planned to develop Tatana Island ( a small 
island in Fairfax Harbor to the northwest 
of the existing harbor) into an entirely new 



16 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. C 
301, CM-IN 7017, 19 Aug 42. 



11 USASOS SWPA, GO No. 7, 1 1 Aug 42. 



76 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



port. The new development, which would 
permit several ocean-going ships to be un- 
loaded at one time, was to be connected 
with the mainland by an earth-filled cause- 
way a half-mile long, over which would run 
a two-lane highway with a freeboard of 
two feet over high tide. The project was to 
be undertaken as soon as engineers and en- 
gineering equipment became available. 12 

Measures were being taken to improve 
the air supply situation both in the Owen 
Stanleys and in the Bulolo Valley. After 
a careful study of the problem, General 
Kenney assigned six A-24's, a B-17, and 
two transports — all the aircraft that could 
be spared — to the task of dropping supplies 
to the Australian troops in both areas. It 
was hoped that the use of these planes if only 
for ten days, the period of their assignment, 
would make possible a substantial improve- 
ment in the supply situation at both Kagi 
and Wau. 13 

Milne Bay 

By 21 August the 18th Australian In- 
fantry Brigade (the 2/9, 2/10, and 2/12 
Australian Infantry Battalions) under 
Brig. George F. Wootten completed its 
movement to Milne Bay. There it joined 
the 7th Australian Infantry Brigade, Citi- 
zen Military Forces (the 9, 25, and 61 Aus- 
tralian Infantry Battalions), under Brig. 
John Field, which had reached Milne Bay 
in July. The following day, 22 August, Maj. 



12 Memo, Col Bcebc, Air Dir of Opns, Allied Air 
Forces, for CG, 18 Aug 42, in 385-9, G-3 Files, 
GHQ SWPA; OCE SWPA, Draft Engr Rpt, 31 
Dec 42; OCE SWPA, New Guinea Ports, 1942. 
Both in AFPAC Engr File. 

"Ltr, Gen MacArthur to Gen Blarney, 24 Aug 
42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Ltr, Gen Kenney to 
Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51. 



Gen. Cyril A. Clowes, an experienced officer 
who had commanded the ANZAC Corps 
artillery in Greece, took command of Milne 
Force. His instructions were to protect the 
airfields and deny Milne Bay to the enemy. 

After the company of the 46th U. S. 
Engineers had arrived in late June and the 
7th Brigade, a 25-pounder battery, and 
some light and heavy Australian antiair- 
craft in early July, the second of two RAAF 
fighter squadrons equipped with P-40's and 
part of a RAAF reconnaissance squadron 
using Hudsons reached Milne Bay by early 
August. Two companies of the 43d U. S. 
Engineers had also arrived by this time as 
well as the 709th U. S. Airborne Antiair- 
craft Battery which was equipped with .50- 
caliber machine guns. The American engi- 
neer troops had a few .50-caliber machine 
guns and some 3 7 -mm. antitank guns in ad- 
dition to their rifles and light machine 
guns. 14 

Milne Force, when General Clowes took 
it over on 22 August, was a good-sized com- 
mand. Australian troop strength was 7,429 
men, of whom 6,394 were combat troops 
and 1,035 were service troops. American 
troop strength, mainly engineers and anti- 
aircraft personnel, numbered 1,365 men; 



11 Memo, Gen MacArthur for Comdr ALF et al., 
2 Jul 42, sub: Reinforcement Fall River: Rad, 
Movements, Townsville, to GHQ SWPA, No. 2797, 
7 Jul 42; Ltr, Gen MacArthur to Comdr ALF, 7 
Aug 42. All in 384, FALL RIVER File, G-3 Files, 
GHQ SWPA. Memo, Gen MacArthur for CG 
USASOS, 28 Jul 42, sub; Movement of 2d Battal- 
ion, 43d Engineers, less one company, in 307.5, Rec 
Sec Files, GHQ SWPA; Unit Hist, 709 AAA MG 
Bty, copy in DRB HRS, AGO. The 25-pounder was 
the standard artillery piece of the Australian and 
British Army at this time. The caliber was about 
3/2 inches; the barrel was about 7?4 feet long: and 
the weight of the shell, as the name of piece sug- 
gested, was roughly 25 pounds. 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



77 



the strength of the RAAF was 664 men. 15 
Clowes's total strength was thus 9,458 men. 

To guard against Japanese infiltration 
from the Buna-Gona area patrols were op- 
erating between East Gape (the eastern tip 
of New Guinea) and Goodenough Bay. The 
overland trails leading into Milne Bay were 
being patrolled regularly, as was the Mul- 
lins Harbor area to the southwest of Milne 
Bay. General Clowes had neither landing 
craft, coastal guns, nor searchlights, but the 
best defense that time would allow had been 
provided. 16 

The Battle of Milne Bay 
The Scene of Operations 

Milne Bay, about twenty miles long and 
five to ten miles wide, lies at the ext reme 
southeast tip of New Guinea. {Map 5) The 
fact that it is often closed in trom the air 
probably accounted for the long time that it 
took the Japanese to discover the presence 
of the Allies in the area. On either arm of 
the bay, mountains 4,000 feet high rise 
abruptly from the shore. Between the moun- 
tains and the sea are narrow coastal corri- 
dors consisting for the most part of deep 
swamp, and dense, almost impenetrable, 
jungle. The rainfall in the bay area averages 
200 inches a year, and during wet weather 
the corridors are virtually impassable. 



15 Msgs, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 
C-301, GM-IN 7017, 19 Aug 42, No. C-382, CM- 
IN 11398, 30 Aug 42; Memo, Gen Ghamberlin for 
Gen Sutherland, 23 Oct 42, sub: Allied Strength at 
Milne Bay, 25 Aug 42-Sep 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA; Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on Opns, 25 Aug 
42-7 Sep 42, copy in OGMH files. 

s Memo, Gen Sutherland for Gen Blarney, 2 Aug 
42, in 385, FALL RIVER File, G-3 Files, GHQ 
SWPA ; ALF Dailv Opns Rpt No. 1 15, 8 Aug 42, in 
G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



At the head of the bay is a large plain into 
which the coastal corridors merge. This 
plain, the site in prewar days of an immense 
coconut plantation operated by Lever 
Brothers, was the only place in the entire 
area which was not completely bogged 
down in mud. Because it already had a 
small, if inadequate, road net, all the base 
installations and airfields were concentrated 
there. 

At the time General Clowes took com- 
mand, one airfield — No. 1 Strip, in the cen- 
ter of the plantation area — had been com- 
pleted and w r as being used by the P-40's 
and Hudsons. The 46th Engineer company 
was working on No. 2 Strip, which was 
about four miles inland at the western end 
of the plantation. The two companies of the 
43d Engineers were working on No. 3 Strip, 
which was just off the north shore. 

Although a great deal of hard work, un- 
der the most adverse conditions, had gone 
into the base, much still remained to be 
done. The roads, for the most part, a cordu- 
roy of coconut logs covered with decom- 
posed coral, were in very poor condition. 
The dock, at Gili Gili, at the very head of 
the bay, consisted of two barges placed side 
by side with a ramp leading to the small 
and inadequate jetty that had been there 
when the military first arrived. Number 1 
Strip, the only runway in operation, and 
very hastily constructed, consisted of an 
open-mesh steel mat, laid over a low-lying, 
poorly drained base. Mud seeped through 
the mat and caused aircraft using the run- 
way to skid and sometimes crack up. Since 
there was no time to rebuild the field, all 
that could be done to remedy the situation 
was to have bulldozers scrape the mat daily 
and deposit the mud in piles on either side 
of the strip. The runway was particularly 
treacherous during wet weather. Though it 




had originally been built as a bomber strip, 
the P-40's often required its entire length 
for their take-offs when it had rained for 
any length of time. When the rainfall was 
exceptionally heavy they were often unable 
to take off at all. 17 

" Staff Mtg, CGS LHQ, 28 Aug 42, in 337, Conf 
File, Rec Sec Files, GHQ SWPA; G-3 [GHQ 
SWPA] Outline of Milne Bay Opns, in G-3 Jnl, 
GHQ SWPA; Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on Opns, 
25 Aug^7 Sep 42; Ltr, Maj Gen Hugh J. Casey to 
author, 21 Jul 50, in OCMH files. General Casey's 
explanation of the hasty construction of No. 1 Strip 
is that the field had to be constructed that way "in 
order to secure an operable airdrome in the limited 
time available." 



This then was the place that the Japanese 
had chosen, at the last minute, to capture 
instead of Samarai. They had made the 
decision only in mid-August, when they first 
discovered the Allies were actually there. 
A few days later they issued the orders to 
attack. 

The Landing 

Toward the latter part of August the 
Japanese decided to launch the Milne Bay 
operation immediately. The Aoba Detach- 
ment, the Army force earmarked to land at 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



79 




Milne Bay, was still at Davao. Nevertheless 
the 8th Fleet, with naval troops available for 
action at Kavieng and Buna, decided to 
proceed with the operation without waiting 
for the detachment to come in. Judging that 
Milne Bay was held by two or three infantry 
companies and twenty or thirty aircraft, 
Admiral Mikawa on 20 August ordered 
some 1,500 men to Milne Bay. A total of 
1,171 men (612 Kure 5th Special Naval 
Landing Force (SNLF) troops, 362 16th 
Naval Pioneer Unit troops, and 197 men 
of the Sasebo 5th SNLF) were ordered to 
Milne Bay from Kavieng; the rest, 353 



Sasebo 5th SNLF troops, were to come from 
Buna. Commander Shojiro Hayashi, of 
the Kure 5th SNLF, was in command of 
the landing forces from Kavieng. His orders 
were to land at Rabi, a point about three 
miles from the Gili Gili wharf area at the 
head of the bay. The troops from Buna were 
to land at Taupota on the north coast and 
march on Gili Gilt overland. 

The first echelon from Kavieng, bearing 
mostly Kure 5th troops, left Rabaul for Rabi 
in two transports in the early morning of 
24 August. The troops of the Sasebo 5th 
SNLF at Buna left for Milne Bay at approxi- 



80 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




MILNE BAY AREA. (Photograph taken 1946.) 



mately the same time in seven large motor- 
driven landing barges. 18 

The seven landing craft were the first to 
be detected by the Allies. The Coast 
Watcher at Porlock Harbor sighted them 
the same afternoon, and early the next 
morning a reconnaissance aircraft reported 
that they were nearing Goodenough Island. 

18 Diary, member Kure 5 th SNLF, in ATIS CT 1, 
No. 41; Diary, member Kure 3d SNLF, in ATIS 
CT 3, No. 57; Diary, member Kure 5th SNLF, in 
ATIS CT 4, No. 76: Sasebo 5th SNLF Opns Or- 
ders, tr quoted in G-2 Daily Summary Enemy Intel 
No. 164, 2-3 Sep 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; 
AMF, Interr Gen Adachi et al.; 17th Army Opns 
I, 50-51; Southeast Area Naval Opns I, 15; Naval 
Account Japanese Invasion Eastern New Guinea, 
pp. 25-28. 



Twelve P-40's from Milne Bay (which had 
been unable to attack previously because of 
enemy air raids and bad weather) took off 
for Goodenough Island at noon and shortly 
thereafter discovered the landing craft 
beached on the southwestern shore of the 
island, where the Japanese had put in to 
stretch their legs and prepare a meal. The 
P-40'sgave the drawn-up barges and ration- 
littered beach a thorough strafing. When 
the attack was over, all of the landing craft 
had been destroyed, and the Sasebo unit, 
its stores, ammunition, and communications 
equipment gone, was left stranded on 
Goodenough Island with no way of reaching 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



81 



its objective, or even of returning to Buna." 

The convoy bearing the Kure 5th troops 
fared better in its approach to the target. 
Heavily escorted by cruisers and destroyers, 
the transports were first sighted off Kiri- 
wina Island, 140 miles northeast of Milne 
Bay, in the early morning of 25 August, 
making directly for Milne Bay. General 
MacArthur's headquarters immediately 
ordered the Air Force to attack the convoy 
and destroy it. All available B-25's and B- 
26's at Townsville and nine B-17's at 
Mareeba in the Cape York Peninsula took 
off at once for the attack, which was to be 
made that afternoon in concert with the 
RAAF P-40's and Hudsons from Milne 
Bay. 

Fortunately for the Japanese, the weather 
(except for a short break at noon which the 
RAAF had exploited to the full in the at- 
tack on Goodenough Island ) was very bad 
all day, both at Moresby and Milne Bay. 
For hours on end planes were unable to take 
off from either place. Attempts by the fi- 
n's from the Cape York Peninsula and the 
P-40's and Hudsons from Milne Bay to hit 
the convoy proved fruitless because of vio- 
lent rain squalls and a heavy overcast. By 
late afternoon visibility was down to zero, 
and despite occasional breaks thereafter the 
Air Force found it impossible to attack suc- 
cessfully that day. 20 

The Japanese landing began about 2200 
hours, 25 August, on the north shore of the 



19 Diary, member Sasebo 5th SNLF, in ATIS CT 
4, No. 84; Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 25 Aug 42 ; 
GHQ Sitrep No. 347, 25 Aug 42; Interr Gen Adachi 
et al.; Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on Opns, 25 Aug-7 
Sep 42; G-3 Outline Milne Bay Opns, 25 Aug 42: 
G -3 Opns Rpt No. 140, 26 Aug 42; in G-3 Jnl, 
GHQ SWPA; Naval Account Japanese Invasion 
Eastern New Guinea, p. 27. 

20 G-3 Outline Milne Bay Opns ; G-3 Opns Rpt 
No. 139, 25 Aug 42, No. 140, 26 Aug 42; Allied Air 
Forces Opns Rpt, 25 Aug 42. 



bay near Waga Waga and Wanadala — five 
to seven miles east of Rabi, their prescribed 
landing point. The landing force set up 
headquarters at Waga Waga and estab- 
lished a series of supply dumps there and in 
the Wanadala area. The shore east of K. B. 
Mission, which the Japanese continued to 
think for some time was the Rabi area, be- 
came their main bivouac site and forward 
jump-off point. Here, about one mile east of 
the mission, at 0145 hours on 26 August, 
elements of Milne Force met the Japanese 
column in an indecisive engagement when 
a screening platoon from Company B, 61 
Battalion, at K, B. Mission started a fire 
fight with the Japanese that lasted until 
nearly dawn. Although the enemy used light 
tanks in support of his probe, he finally with- 
drew leaving the Australian detachment in 
place. 21 

The Advance 

The Japanese could scarcely have chosen 
a worse landing place. Their objectives, the 
airfields and the wharf, were at the head of 
Milne Bay, and they had landed several 
miles from the plantation area on a jungle- 
covered coastal shelf, flanked on the right 
by mountains and on the left by the sea. 
Because the mountains in the landing area 
were steep and very close to shore, there was 
virtually no room for maneuver, and the 
heavy jungle which covered the bay shore 
made it impossible to find a dry bivouac for 
the troops anywhere in the area. 

It had rained steadily during the preced- 
ing few weeks, and the heavy tropical down- 
pour continued. The mountain streams had 



21 AMF, Interr Gen Adachi et al.; Naval Account 
Japanese Invasion Eastern New Guinea, pp. 25-28; 
Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on Opns, 25 Aug-7 
Sep 42. 



82 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



become roaring torrents, and the spongy 
soil of the corridor a quagmire. The single 
coastal track that skirted the corridor had 
in places completely washed away, and the 
level of the many fords that cut across it had 
risen to almost three feet. Except for a few 
abandoned plantations and mission stations, 
the corridor was a sodden welter of jungle 
and swamp, an utter nightmare for any 
force operating in it. 22 

Although they had seriously misjudged 
Allied strength, and had landed on a muddy 
coastal shelf thousands of yards from the 
head of the bay, the Japanese nevertheless 
enjoyed some significant tactical advantages. 
Their left flank was secure because they had 
control of the sea, and their right flank 
could not easily be turned because of the 
mountains a few hundred yards away. It 
was true that they could count on little air 
power, since Lae and Salamaua, the nearest 
operational air bases, were more than 300 
miles away; but unlike Milne Force, which 
could barely scrape up a few trawlers, they 
had plenty of landing craft and could there- 
fore land troops and supplies freely under 
cover of darkness or of the weather, despite 
their deficiency in the air. 

General Clowes, on the other hand, was a 
man fighting blind. Because of the dense 
jungle on the north shore of the bay and 
frequent heavy overcasts, neither his ground 
patrols nor his aerial reconnaissance could 
tell him what the Japanese were doing or 
what their numbers were. Worse still, he 
was face to face with the possibility that the 
Japanese, in addition to landing on the 
north shore, might land troops on the south 
shore, or even at the head of the bay. Hav- 
ing no idea as yet of Japanese intentions, 

22 Staff Mtg CGS LHQ, 28 Aug 42 ; OCE SWPA, 
Draft Engr Rpt, 31 Dec 42; Comdr Milne Force, 
Rpt on Opns, 25 Aug-7 Sep 42. 



Clowes held the bulk of his force in the plan- 
tation area, to be committed to the north 
shore when it became apparent from the 
circumstances that the Japanese had no 
intention of landing troops elsewhere in the 
bay area. 

At the time of the Japanese landings dur- 
ing the night of 25-26 August, the main 
body of Milne Force was deployed in the 
plantation area in the vicinity of the air- 
fields and two companies of the 6 1 Battalion 
were on the north shore in the path of the 
Japanese thrust. One of these companies 
was at Ahioma, just east of Wanadala; the 
other was at K. B. Mission. There was also 
a platoon of the 61 Battalion on the north- 
east coast guarding against an overland at- 
tack on Milne Bay from the Taupota side 
of the mountains, as well as a reinforced 
company of the 25 Battalion farther to the 
northwest on Goodenough Bay. 

The company at Ahioma did not fare as 
well as the one at K. B. Mission. The troops 
at Ahioma had been under orders to return 
to Gili Gili by water, and two of the three 
platoons were already on their way in two 
ketches when the Japanese landings began. 
Shortly after leaving Ahioma the ketches 
plowed into a landing wave off Wanadala. 
In the melee one of the Australian craft was 
sunk. Some of the militia troops were lost; 
others struggled ashore and infiltrated back 
to their own lines. The platoon in the other 
ketch returned to Ahioma and, with the 
platoon that had remained there, marched 
overland to Taupota and thence back over 
the mountains to Gili Gili where they re- 
joined their battalion several days later."' 3 

2:1 Memo, Brig John Field, CO 7th Aust Inf Bde, 
for Hq, Milne Force, 17 Sep 42, sub: Lessons from 
Recent Fighting, copy in OCMH files; G-3 Outline 
Milne Bay Opns ; Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on Opns, 
25 Aug-7 Sep 42 ; Naval Account Japanese Inva- 
sion Eastern New Guinea, p. 26. 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



83 



By 0745 that morning, 26 August, the 
weather had abated sufficiently for the 
P-40's from No. 1 Strip and the B-17's 
staging from Port Moresby to go into action. 
In an extremely successful morning's busi- 
ness, the P-40's managed to destroy most 
of the food and ammunition that the Japa- 
nese had brought with them. The B 1 7's, al- 
most as successful, inflicted heavy damage 
on a large Japanese transport unloading 
offshore. 24 

Toward evening a second Japanese con- 
voy (Commander Hayashi's second eche- 
lon) was sighted off Normanby Island in 
the D'Entrecasteaux Group, making at high 
speed for Milne Bay. Before it could be dealt 
with, a heavy fog descended over the area, 
blotting out the convoy's further move- 
ments. The troops aboard landed safely that 
night, completing the 1,170-man movement 
from Kavieng. 25 

K. B. Mission had meanwhile been rein- 
forced by a second company of the 61 Bat- 
talion. The Japanese, who had reconnoi- 
tered the mission during the day, struck 
again that night in much greater strength 
than before. The Australian militia was 
forced out of the mission and all the way 
back to the line of the Gama River, just cast 
of Rabi. Fortunately for the Australians, 
the Japanese again chose to break off the 
engagement at dawn. 

The following morning, General Clowes 
sent the 2/10 Battalion of the 18th Brigade 
to K. B. Mission. The battalion, intended to 
be a reconnaissance force, was lightly 



24 GHQ SWPA Sitrcp No. 347, 26 Aug 42; Msg, 
Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. C-361, CM 
IN 10432, 27 Aug 42; Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on 
Opns, 25 Aug-7 Sep 42; Naval Account Japanese 
Invasion Eastern New Guinea, p. 26. 

2i G-3 Opns Rpt, No. 140, 26 Aug 42 ; G-3 Out- 
line Milne Bay Opns; Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen 
Marshall, No: C-361, CM-IN 10432, 27 Aug 42. 



armed. Its orders were to keep in contact 
with the Japanese, draw them out, and in 
general find out what they were up to. 
Without such essential knowledge, General 
Clowes was confronted with a cruel di- 
lemma. If he moved his troops onto the 
north shore, the enemy might counter by 
landing fresh troops on the south shore or 
at the head of the bay itself. As he himself 
was to explain : 

The presence of Jap naval elements in the 
vicinity throughout the operation and the 
freedom of activity enjoyed by the enemy by 
sea constituted a continuous menace in regard 
to possible further landings. These factors nec- 
essarily had a marked influence on plans and 
dispositions made to deal with the enemy. On 
several occasions, such plans were definitely 
slowed down or suffered variation through the 
delay involved in assuring that the south shore 
was clear, and, further, that reports of the 
presence of enemy ships at Mullins Harbor 
were not founded on fact. 26 

The 2/10 Battalion reached the mission 
unopposed in the late afternoon of 27 
August. Under orders to move on again in 
the morning, the battalion had barely settled 
itself for the night when the Japanese struck 
at the mission again, this time with two 
tanks and all their available combat troops. 
Despite unceasing tropical rain, the ground 
in the well-drained and relatively open 
plantation area was firm enough for tank 
action. The two tanks, equipped with bril- 
liant headlights that made targets of the 
Australians and left the attackers in dark- 
ness, inflicted heavy casualties on the 2/10 
Battalion. The lightly armed Australians, 



x Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on Opns 25 Aug-7 
Sep 42 ; Naval Account Japanese Invasion Eastern 
New Guinea, p. 26; Interv with Lt Col Peter S. 
Teesdale-Smith, AMF, 22 Aug 49, copy in OCMH 
files. At the time the battle was fought, Colonel 
Teesdale-Smith, then a captain, was intelligence 
officer of the 2/10 Battalion. 



84 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



whose only antitank protection was "sticky- 
type" hand grenades, which would not stick, 
were unable to knock out the tanks and also 
failed to shoot out their headlights. After 
about two hours of fighting the Japanese 
managed to split the battalion in two. Bat- 
talion headquarters and two companies 
were forced off the track and into the jun- 
gle, and the remainder of the battalion was 
pushed back to the Gania River. A portion 
of the battalion reached the plantation area 
that night, but the main body took to the 
hills in order to get around the enemy's 
flank and did not get back to the head of 
the bay until three days later. 27 

With the 2/10 Battalion out of the way, 
the Japanese continued on to No. 3 strip. 
There a heavy fire fight at once developed, 
a fight in which American antiaircraft and 
engineer troops played a significant part. 

The Fighting at No. 3 Strip 

The east-west airstrip, just west of Kilabo 
and only a few miles from Rabi, was an 
ideal defensive position. The runway, a hun- 
dred yards wide and 2,000 yards long, was 
cleared but only partially graded, and there 
was a sea of mud at its eastern edge which 
made it impossible for tanks to get through. 
It afforded the defenders a broad, cleared 
field of fire, and, lying obliquely across the 
mouth of the corridor with its southern end 
less than five hundred feet from the water, 
was directly in the path of the Japanese 
advance. 

Brigadier Field, in charge of the defense, 
ranged his troops along the southern edge 
of the strip, giving the Japanese no alterna- 



27 Memo, Brig Field for Hq Milne Force, 1 7 Sep 
42, sub: Lessons from the Recent Fighting; Comdr 
Milne Force, Rpt on Opns, 25 Aug-7 Sep 42 ; 
Interv with Col Teesdale-Smith, 22 Aug 49. 



tive but to attack frontally. The main bur- 
den of holding the strip fell upon the bri- 
gade's 25th and 61st Battalions, but the 
709th U. S. Airborne Antiaircraft Battery 
and Companies D and F of the 43d U. S. 
Engineers held key positions in its defense. 
The antiaircraft battery with its .50-caliber 
machine guns was given the task of sup- 
porting the Australians at the eastern end 
of the strip, and the .50-caliber and 37-mm. 
gun crews of Companies D and F, 43d U. S. 
Engineers, flanked on either side by Austra- 
lian riflemen and mortarmen, were sta- 
tioned at the center of the line at the crucial 
point where the track from Rabi crossed 
the runway. 

The Japanese reached the area immedi- 
ately in front of the strip just before dawn. 
They attacked aggressively but were re- 
pulsed and forced to withdraw. No tanks 
were used in the attack, although two 
of them (apparently the same two that 
the Japanese had used with such success 
at K. B. Mission were brought up, only 
to be abandoned when they bogged down 
hopelessly. 2 " 

The attackers were now within a few 
miles of No. 1 Strip, and General Clowes, 
fearful lest they infiltrate it during the night, 
ordered the P-40's to Port Moresby. Fortu- 
nately the Japanese were quiet that night, 
and the following morning the fighters re- 
turned to Milne Bay to stay. 29 



28 Ltr, Capt Joseph E. Wood, Adj 2d Bn, 43d 
Engr Regt (GS), to Chief Engr, U.S. /-my, SWPA, 
18 Sep 42, sub: Rpt of Participation in the Milne 
Bay Battle by U.S. Engr Troops in this Area; Memo, 
Gen Casev for Gen Sutherland, 25 Oct 42; Ltr, 
Maj Ludlow C. Adams, CO 2d Bn, 43d Engrs 
(GS), to CG USASOS SWPA, 2 Nov 42, sub: 
Participation of U.S. Engr Troops in the Battle of 
Milne Bay, 25 Aug-20 Sep 43, All in AFPAC Engr 
File. Unit Hist 709th AAA MG Bty. 

2B Comdr Milne. Force, Rpt on Opns, 25 Aug-7 
Sep 42. 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



85 




AUSTRALIAN RIFLEMEN PASSING ABANDONED JAPANESE TANKS 

bogged down near No. 3 Strip. 



On 26 August, the day of the landing, 
and again on the afternoon of the 28th, 
General MacArthur had ordered General 
Blarney to see to it that the north shore of 
Milne Bay was cleared of the enemy at 
once. s " Because of defective communications 
New Guinea Force did not receive the or- 
ders of the 26th until late on the 27th, and 
General Clowes, apparently, not until early 



G— 3 Outline Milne Bay Opns; Ltr, Gen Suther- 
land to Gen Blarney, 28 Aug. 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA. General MacArthur, in conference with 
General Blarney on the 26th, gave it as his "profes- 
sional opinion" that the Japanese would reinforce 
the landing on the north shore within seventy-two 
hours. 



the next morning;" Early on the 28th Clowes 
ordered the 7th Brigade to be prepared to 
move forward at dawn the following day. 
Strong patrols of the brigade moved out 
early on the 29th but met stiff enemy oppo- 
sition, and little progress was registered, 
Clowes thereupon ordered in the 18th 
Brigade with instructions to move at once 
on K. B. Mission. He canceled the orders 
at 1633 upon learning that another Jap- 
anese convoy was on its way to Milne Bay. 



31 Ltr, Maj Gen George A. Vasey, DSGS ALF, 
to Gen Sutherland, 28 Aug 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA : Gomdr Milne Force, Rpt on Opns, 25 Aug- 
7 Sep 42. 



86 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



His reason for the cancellation — as he was 
to explain later — was the renewed possi- 
bility "of an enemy attempt to land on the 
west and south shores of Milne Bay." 32 

The convoy, escorted by a cruiser and 
nine destroyers, unloaded safely under cover 
of a heavy mist. It brought to the sore-beset 
Japanese on the north shore nearly 770 rein- 
forcements — 568 troops of the Kure 3d 
SNLF and 200 of the Yokosuka 5th 
SNLF — under Commander Minoru Yano, 
who, being apparently senior to Hayashi, at 
once took over command of operations. 33 

The daylight hours of the following day, 
30 August, were quiet. Milne Force sent 
patrols to feel out the enemy in preparation 
for the long-delayed general advance, and 
the Japanese, hidden in the jungle, consoli- 
dated for another attack on No. 3 strip. The 
climax came that night when the Japanese 
made an all-out effort to take the strip. 
Brigadier Field was again ready for them. 
The only change in his dispositions was to 
place the .50-caliber machine guns of the 
709th Antiaircraft Battery at both ends of 
the line instead of as before on its eastern 
end. The .50-caliber machine guns and 37- 
mm. antitank gun crews of Companies D 
and F of the 43d Engineers were as before 
in the center of the line, flanked on either 
side by the riflemen and mortarmen of the 
25th and 61st Battalions. The 25 pounders, 
about half a mile to the rear, lent their sup- 
port, as did the P-40's from No. 1 Strip. 



32 Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on Opns, 25 Aug-7 
Sep 42. The 18th Brigade was, of course, less the 
2/10 Battalion, which at this time was trying to 
find its way back to the head of the bay. 

33 Diary, owner unknown, in ATIS CT 1, No. 41, 
63 ; Diaries, members Kure 3d and Yokosuka 5th 
SNLF in ATIS CT 4, Nos. 63, 65, 67 ; USSBS, The 
Campaigns of the Pacific War, p. Ill: Naval Ac- 
count Japanese Invasion Eastern New Guinea, pp. 
25, 28; 17th Army Opns, I, 51. 



When the Japanese made their move 
against the airstrip, such intense fire hit 
them that not one man was able to cross 
the strip alive. The heaviest attack came 
before dawn. Like the others, it was re- 
pulsed with heavy loss to the enemy, who 
withdrew at first light, leaving 160 dead 
behind. 34 

The Withdrawal 

The Japanese were now in full retreat, 
and Brigadier Wootten's 18th Brigade, the 
2/12 Battalion leading, began the long- 
delayed task of clearing them from the north 
shore. Very heavy fighting developed at 
once along the Gama River and later near 
K. B. Mission. Between 1 and 5 September 
the Australians lost 45 killed and 147 
wounded. Japanese losses were much heav- 
ier. At the Gama River alone, the enemy 
lost at least 100 killed, and his casualties 
mounted steadily as the Australians ad- 
vanced. Hungry, riddled with tropical 
fevers, suffering from trench foot and jungle 
rot, and with many wounded in their midst, 
the Japanese realized the end was near; and 
Commander Yano, himself wounded, so 
advised the 8th Fleet.* 5 



M Ltr, Capt Wood to Chief Engr, SWPA, 18 Sep 
42, sub: Report of Participation in the Milne Bay 
Battle by U.S. Engr Troops in this Area; Memo, 
Gen Casey for Gen Sutherland, 25 Oct 42 ; Memo, 
Maj Adams for CG USASOS, 2 Nov 42, sub: Par- 
ticipation of U.S. Engr Troops in the Battle of 
Milne Bay: OCE SWPA, Draft Engr Rpt, 31 Dec 
42; Unit Hist 709th AAA MG Bty; Comdr Milne 
Force, Rpt on Opns, 25 Aug-7 Sep 42; Naval Ac- 
count Japanese Invasion Eastern New Guinea, pp. 
26, 27; Southeast Area Naval Opns I, 21. 

35 Ltr, John Balfour, Office of the Official Aus- 
tralian War Historian, Canberra, to author, 8 Dec 
50, in OCMH files; Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on 
Opns, 25 Aug-7 Sep 42; Southeast Area Naval 
Opns I, 21; Naval Account Japanese Invasion 
Eastern New Guinea, p. 27. 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



87 



The commander in chief of the 8th Fleet, 
Admiral Mikawa, considered the possibility 
of reinforcing the landing parties at Milne 
Bay with the 1,000-man advance echelon 
of the Aoba Detachment, which had finally 
reached Rabaul on 3 1 August. It was a suf- 
ficient force, he thought, to retrieve the situ- 
ation if the troops ashore could hold out till 
it arrived. In an interchange of messages 
with Yano, Admiral Mikawa offered to 
land 200 more Yokosuka 5th troops immedi- 
ately, and the Aoba Detachment by 12 Sep- 
tember, if there was any possibility that the 
troops at Milne Bay could hold out till the 
Aoba Force arrived. When Yano told him 
that the troops ashore were physically in- 
capable of making a further stand, Mikawa 
concluded the situation was hopeless and 
ordered Milne Bay evacuated. 

The wounded were put on board ship on 
the night of 4 September. The rest of the 
landing force, except for scattered elements 
that had to be left behind, took ship the 
following night from the anchorage at Waga 
Waga one jump ahead of the 1 8th Brigade, 
whose forward elements were actually with- 
in earshot when the Japanese pulled out. 
Some 1,300 of the 1,900 troops landed were 
evacuated to Rabaul, nearly all of them 
suffering from trench foot, jungle rot, tropi- 
cal ulcers, and other tropical diseases. Virtu- 
ally none of the. evacuees, not even those 
who landed as late as 29 August, were in 
condition to fight. 36 

The 2/9 Battalion, which was now lead- 

M Intercept, rad COMCRUDIV 18 to Comdr 
Japanese Troops, Milne Bay, 3 Sep 42; Intercept, 
rad, CINC 8th Fleet to Comdr Japanese Troops, 
Milne Bay, 5 Sep 42; G-3 Opns Rpt No. 149, 4 
Sep 42 ; GHQ Shrep No. 356, 4 Sep 42. All in G-3 
Jnl GHQ SWPA. Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on 
Opns, 25 Aug 42-7 Sep 42; AMF, Interr Gen 
Adachi et al.; Southeast Area Naval Opns I, 21-22 ; 
Naval Account Japanese Invasion Eastern New 
Guinea, p. 28. 



ing the advance, met with only light and 
scattered resistance on the morning of 6 
September. By the following morning it was 
clear that organized resistance had ceased. 
Small bands of stragglers were all that re- 
mained of the Japanese landing forces, and 
these were disposed of in the next few weeks 
by Australian patrols, which took only a 
handful of prisoners. 

The Japanese lost some 600 killed in the 
operation, as against 321 Australian ground 
casualties — 123 killed and 198 wounded." 
American losses in defense of No. 3 Strip 
were very low — one man killed and two 
wounded. 38 

The timely return from the Solomons in 
early September of Task Force 44 made it 
possible thenceforward for the Allied Naval 
Forces to cover the sea approaches to Milne 
Bay; sn and the dispatch, at approximately 
the same time, of two 155-mm. guns with 
attached searchlight units helped further to 
secure the area. 40 

The base was meanwhile being steadily 
improved. More and better roads were built. 
A new wharf was constructed to replace the 
old inadequate jetty. Number 1 Strip was 



" Ltr, Balfour to author, 8 Dec 50; Comdr Milne 
Force, Rpt on Opns, 25 Aug-7 Sep 42, AMF; Interr 
Gen Adachi et al.; Southeast Area Naval Opns I, 
22; Naval Account Japanese Invasion Eastern New 
Guinea, p. 28. 

M Ltr, Capt Wood to Chief Engr SWPA, 18 Sep 
42, sub: Report of Participation in the Milne Bay 
Battle by U.S. Engineer Troops in this area; Memo, 
Maj Adams for CG USASOS, 2 Nov 42, sub-. Par- 
ticipation of U.S. Engr Troops in the Ba\tle of 
Milne Bay ; Unit Hist 709th AAA MG Bty. 

:l ° Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. C- 
267, CM-IN 574, 28 Aug 42 ; Rad, COMSOPAC to 
CTF 61 et al., 30 Aug 42, in SOPAC War Diary; 
Memo, Gen Sutherland for Admiral Leary, 4 Sep 
42, sub: Employment of Naval Forces Southwest 
Pacific Area, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 

™ Memo, Gen Chamberlin for Gen Vasey, 10 Sep 
42, sub: 155-mm. GPF Guns for Milne Bay, in 385, 
G-3, GHQ SWPA Files, in ORB RAC, AGO. 



88 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




WHARF AT GILI GILI built to replace old jetty. 



rebuilt, and No. 3 Strip was completed." 
Bombing of Rabaul and of Japanese air- 
fields in the northern Solomons without the 
need of crossing the Owen Stanleys became 
possible for the first time. Equally impor- 
tant the stage was set for a successful inves- 
titure of the north coast of Papua from East 
Cape to Buna. 

The Allied victory at Milne Bay had 
snapped the southern prong of the pincers 
the Japanese had hoped to apply to Port 



" OCE SWPA, Draft Engr Rpt, 31 Dec 42 ; Ltr, 
Gen Casey to author, 21 Jul 50. Number 2 Strip 
was never completed, for it was decided immedi- 
ately after the battle to discontinue work on it and 
to concentrate instead on the other two fields. 



Moresby. An essential part of the plan of 
3 1 July had failed. The rest of the plan, the 
overland attack on Port Moresby by the 
South Seas Detachment, was now to be put 
to the test. 

The Road to Ioribaiwa 

General Norii Pushes 
the Australians Back 

While the battle of Milne Bay was being 
fought, the Japanese on the Kokoda Trail 
were winning some of their most spectacular 
victories of the campaign. General Horii, 
who had left for the front on 22 August, 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



89 



had issued orders on the 24th for a general 
offensive. The attack began at dawn on 26 
August and developed such power after a 
week of unremitting pressure that the Aus- 
tralians found themselves unable to stand 
firm with the forces at hand. They had no 
choice but to give ground. Not only were 
they heavily outnumbered, but their supply 
difficulties were greater than those of the 
Japanese who were supplied from nearby 
Kokoda and whose way, once their supply 
parties had reached the crest of the range, 
lay down, not up. 

The enemy advance continued despite 
the mountain trail, the bitter resistance of 
the Australians, and the sustained bombing 
and strafing of Japanese supply lines by the 
Allied Air Force. By 7 September, the date 
organized resistance ceased at Milne Bay, 
the troops of the South Seas Detachment 
had made tremendous gains. They had 
driven the Australians from Isurava, Alola, 
Eora Creek, and Templeton's Crossing. 
They had gained possession of the Gap, had 
taken Myola, Kagi, and Efogi on the south- 
ern slopes of the range, and stood poised to 
take Menari, Nauro, and Ioribaiwa, the last 
villages betwee n them and Port Moresby. 42 
(See Map II.) 



The Opposing Forces 

General Horii had opened the attack with 
the 144th Infantry, reinforced by elements 
of the 55th Mountain Artillery, miscellane- 
ous mortar and machine gun units, and the 
main body of the 15th Independent Engi- 
neers. The artillery troops had left their 

42 Nankai Shitai Opns Order No. A-102, 24 Aug 
42, in ATIS EP No. 33; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea 
Opns, Buna-Ioribaiwa; G-2 Daily Summaries En- 
emy Intel No. 166, 4-5 Sep 42, No. 167, 5- 6 Sep 
42, No. 168, 6-7 Sep. 42. 



guns behind pending a study of how they 
were to be brought forward, and the engi- 
neers were advancing with the infantry 
troops, improving the track as they went. 
One of the two battalions of the 41st In- 
fantry, which had come in from Rabaul a 
few days before, joined in the attack on 28 
August. The remaining battalion was held 
in reserve in the Kokoda area, where it 
helped out with supply. On the night of 
2—3 September, approximately 1,500 Japa- 
nese reinforcements from Rabaul were 
landed safely at Basabua from a large con- 
voy which managed to elude detection by 
the Allied Air Force. The reinforcements 
included the remaining battalion of the 
41st Infantry and the rear echelon of the 
Nankai Shitai — the 67th Line of Commu- 
nications Hospital, more service troops, and 
an "emergency" transport unit including 
vehicles and 300 pack horses. The incoming 
battalion was immediately ordered to the 
front and reached the scene of operations 
a few days later. 

In contrast to General Horii's five rein- 
forced battalions, the Australians, until 
Efogi was reached, never had more than 
three battalions in the forward area to op- 
pose the Japanese advance. One of them 
was the depicted 39 Battalion, which had 
been in action for more than a month and 
should have been relieved long before. The 
Japanese, using continuous flanking opera- 
tions, had no trouble driving the Australians 
back. Two regimental combat teams, one 
under command of Col. Masao Kusunose, 
commander of the 144th Infantry, and the 
other under Colonel Yazawa, commander 
of the 41st Infantry, alternated in pressing 
home the attack. They were thus able to 
outflank the Australians almost at will and, 
by bringing pressure to bear from different 



90 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



directions, to push them from one ridge 
after another. 13 

When the Japanese opened their offen- 
sive in late August, the only combat troops 
facing them were the 39 Battalion, 30th 
Brigade headquarters, and the 53 Battalion. 
Two battalions of the 21st Brigade, the 
2/ 1 4 and 2 / 1 6 Battalions ( which were to be 
followed by the third battalion, the 2/27 ) , 
were on the way to the forward area but 
had not yet arrived. They began arriving 
company by company the following day, 
each company being thrown into battle as 
soon as it came up. 

The fighting was desperate and the Aus- 
tralians, weighed down with heavy packs 
and cumbersome .303 rifles, outnumbered 
and repeatedly outflanked, suffered heavy 
casualties. The 2/14 Battalion relieved the 
39 Battalion on 29 August, and the latter 
unit moved to the rear to reorganize, as did 
the 53 Battalion which had been badly 
cut up in the battle. From 1 September to 
5 September the 2/14 and 2/16 Battalions, 
bearing the full brunt of the enemy attack, 
were under such heavy pressure that they 
were forced to withdraw' through the Gap 
and take up positions on the other side of 
the range. 44 

The Australians found it impossible to 
make a stand, not only because they were 
outnumbered but also because they were 
running short of food and ammunition. 



11 ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, Buna-Iori- 
baiwa: Nankai Shitai Opns Orders No. A-102, 24 
Aug 42, n. n., 29 Aug 42, n. n., 30 Aug 42, No. 
A-112, 4 Sep 42, in ATIS EP No. 33; 17th Army 
Intel Summaries No. 9, 22 Aug 42, No. 11, 26 Aug 
42, No. 14, 29 Aug 42, No. 15, 30 Aug 42, No. 16, 
31 Aug 42, No. 19, 3 Sep 42, in ATIS EP No. 28. 

"ALF Daily Opns Rpt No. 138, 31 Aug 42: G-3 
Opns Rpt, No. 147, 2 Sep 42; G-2 Daily Sum- 
maries Enemy Intel No. 165, 3-4 Sep 42, No. 166, 
4-5 Sep 42; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, Buna- 
Ioribaiwa. 



Their supplies had come either via native 
carriers or by airdrops, and neither carriers 
nor planes had been able to get enough 
supplies to them for more than hand-to- 
mouth operations. The forward supply sys- 
tem on the trail, which at best had operated 
only by fits and starts, collapsed completely 
when the Myola dropping grounds were 
lost, and the natives, demoralized by the 
Japanese advance, began to desert in large 
numbers/ Suffering from exhaustion, fever, 
and dysentery, the Australians had to pull 
back to a defensive position closer to their 
source of supply, from which, after being 
properly reinforced, they could hope to 
launch an effective counterattack. 

The retreat was bitterly contested but, 
despite the enemy's superior strength, or- 
derly. The enemy's losses were heavy, but 
the cost to the Australians, continuously in 
danger of being surrounded and over- 
whelmed if they held a position too long, 
were heavier still. When the 2/14 and 2/16 
Battalions fell back on Efogi Spur on 6 Sep- 
tember (where they joined the 2/27 Bat- 
talion which was already in position there ) , 
the 2/14 Battalion was at half-strength 
and the 2/16 Battalion only a company 
stronger. 46 

General Mac Arthur Plans a 
Turning Movement 

All this time General Headquarters had 
been under the impression that Japanese 

45 ALF Daily Opns Rpt No. 141, 3 Sep 42; G-3 
Opns Rpt No. 148, 3 Sep 42; G-2 Daily Summaries 
Enemy Intel No. 164, 2-3 Sep 42, No. 166, 4-5 Sep 
42, No. 167, 5-6 Sep 42. White, Green Armor, pp. 
189-208. White was with the troops at this time, 
and his account of the retreat is a vivid and com- 
pelling one. 

"G-3 Opns Rpt No. 152, 7 Sep 42; Ltr, Gen 
Vasey, DCGS ALF, to Gen Chamberlin, 8 Sep 42, 
in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



91 



strength on the trail was slight, and that 
the enemy had no real intention of advanc- 
ing on Port Moresby." It therefore did not 
immediately understand the reason for the 
swift Japanese advance. General Mac- 
Arthur indeed found himself puzzled by the 
situation. Being certain, he said, that the 
Australians on the trail outnumbered the 
Japanese, he had General Chamberlin ask 
Allied Land Forces on 7 September for an 
explanation of the repeated Australian with- 
drawals. 48 

The explanation came the next day from 
General Rowell himself, and was communi- 
cated immediately to General Chamberlin. 
General Rowell pointed out that, contrary to 
the prevailing opinion at General Head- 
quarters, his forces had been heavily out- 
numbered during the previous week's fight- 
ing. He added that the Japanese appeared 
to have on the trail the maximum number 
of troops that they could supply there. 
While he was certain that he could regain 
the initiative with the help of the 25th 
Brigade, which was then disembarking at 
Port Moresby, he felt that he would need 
more troops later on in the operation. Be- 
cause none of the CMF brigades at Port 
Moresby seemed to have enough training 
for the task, he asked that one of the two 
6th Australian Infantry Division brigades 
that had recently come in from Ceylon be 
transferred to Port Moresby at once for 
action on the trail. 40 

On 9 September the 16th Australian In- 
fantry Brigade of the 6th Division was 

G-2 Daily Summaries Enemy Intel, No. 165, 
3-4 Sep 42, No. 168, 6-7 Sep 42. 

"Untitled Jnl Entry [Gen Chamberlin, Memo 
for the Record, 1800, 7 Sep 42], 8 Sep 42, in G-3 
Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 

4n Ltr, Gen Vasey to Gen Chamberlin, 8 Sep 42. 
The incoming 6th Division units were the 16th and 
17th Brigades. The 19th Brigade, it will be recalled, 
was at Darwin where it had been since March. 




GENERAL HARDING 



ordered to Port Moresby, and the 25th 
Brigade was rushed to the front. 60 Since there 
now appeared to be sufficient Australian 
troops to contain the Japanese advance, 
General MacArthur began to plan a flank- 
ing movement by an American regimental 
combat team which would cut in on the 
enemy's rear and hasten his withdrawal 
from the Kokoda Gap area. 

Choice of the unit was left to Maj. Gen. 
Robert L. Eichelberger (then newly arrived 
in Australia and soon to be promoted to 
lieutenant general) , to whom as Command- 
ing General, I Corps, U. S. Army, the 32d 
and 41st Divisions had been assigned on 5 
September. General Eichelberger had al- 
ready decided that the 32d Division would 
precede the 41st to New Guinea. He made 

LHQ OI No. 33, 9 Sep 42; ALF, Rpt on New 
Guinea Opns, Buna-Ioribaiwa. 



92 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



this decision because the training camp of 
the 3 2d Division at Camp Cable near Bris- 
bane was inferior to that of the 4 1 st Division 
at Rockhampton. The general believed the 
32d should go first because it would in any 
event have to be moved to another camp. 
After consulting with General Harding, 
commanding general of the 3 2d Division, 
and learning from him that the 126th In- 
fantry under Col. Lawrence A. Quinn was 
the best-trained and best-led of his three 
regiments, General Eichelberger chose the 
126th for the task. 

The regiment was at once alerted for 
transfer to New Guinea. The men prepared 
for immediate movement, and, on General 
Eichelberger's orders, a Brisbane cleaning 
establishment began dyeing the men's 
fatigues a mottled green for action in the 
jungle. 51 

General MacArthur's plan of maneuver 
was ready on 1 1 September, and he com- 
municated it at once to General Blarney, 
Commander Allied Land Forces, to whom 
I Corps had been assigned for operational 
control. 52 He was satisfied, General Mac- 
Arthur wrote, that the dispatch of the 25th 
and 16th Brigades to Port Moresby would 
probably be sufficient to arrest any further 
forward movement of the Japanese toward 
Port Moresby, and ultimately to drive them 
back across the Owen Stanley Range. Since 
the Japanese were known to be extremely 
tenacious in holding ground once they had 
gained it, he believed that to force the Jap- 
anese back by direct attack along the Port 



61 GHQ SWPA GO No. 30, 5 Sep 42 ; Interv with 
Maj Gen Edwin F. Harding, 9 Dec 47 ; Interv with 
Lt Gen Robert L. Eichelberger, 20 Nov 48. Both 
intervs in OCMH files. F. Tillman Durdin, "The 
Grim Hide and Seek of Jungle War," in The New 
York Times Magazine, 1 Mar 43. 

52 GHQ SWPA, GO No. 30, 5 Sep 42. 



Moresby-Kokoda track alone would be a 
very slow business. To hasten a Japanese 
withdrawal, he had therefore ordered "a 
wide turning movement" by the 126th U. S. 
Infantry to cut in behind the Japanese 
at Wairopi. This, General Mac Arthur 
thought, could best be accomplished by an 
overland advance from Port Moresby, via 
Rouana Falls and the Mimani, Irua, Mu- 
goni, and Kumusi Rivers, a route his staff 
had particularly recommended be used. 53 

The following day, Brig. Gen. Hanford 
MacNider, of the G-4 Section GHO 
SWPA, who had been chosen by General 
Mac Arthur to make advance arrangements 
for the regiment's reception and march over 
the mountains, left for Port Moresby by air. 
General MacNider was accompanied by Lt. 
Col. Joseph S. Bradley, the 32d Division 
G-4 (who returned to Australia several days 
later), and members of Colonel Ouinn's 
staff including Maj. Bernd G. Baetcke, his 
executive officer, Capt. William F. Boice, 
his intelligence officer, and Capt. Alfred 
Medendorp, the assistant S-4. Suitable ar- 
rangements were made by these officers for 
the reception of the troops, and two days 
later, 15 September, the first element of the 
126th Infantry left Brisbane for Port 
Moresby by air, the men's fatigues still wet 
with dye. 

The movement consisted of Company E, 
a medical officer, Capt. John T. Boet, four 
aid men, and an attached platoon of Com- 
pany A, 1 14th Engineer Battalion. The de- 
tachment, 172 men in all, was under com- 
mand of Capt. Melvin Schultz, command- 
ing officer of Company E. These former Na- 
tional Guard troops, most of them from Big 
Rapids, Michigan, arrived at Port Moresby 



B 'Ltr, Gen MacArthur to Comdr ALF, 11 Sep 
42, sub: Shipment, 126th Inf, 32d U.S. Div, to Port 
Moresby, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



94 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



from Amberley Field near Brisbane on the 
afternoon of 15 September, the first Ameri- 
can infantry unit to set foot in New 
Guinea. 04 

General Harding had come down to Am- 
berley Field to see the company off and, be- 
fore it left, had given the men a little talk, 
in which he referred to them as "The Spear- 
head of the Spearhead of the Spearhead." 
Pleased with the general's happy phrase, 
Company E called itself thereafter, "The 
Three Spearheads." 55 

General MacNider's group had no sooner 
arrived at Port Moresby than it discovered 
that the route proposed by General Mac- 
Arthur's staff for the advance to Wairopi 
was an impracticable one. Not only did it 
intersect the Australian rear and extend into 
an area where troops using it could be cut 
off by the Japanese, but it was so rough and 
mountainous that the only way to supply 
troops using it would be from the air. 
Consideration was then given to an al- 
ternative route — the eighty-five mile trail, 
Port Moresby-Kapa Kapa Kalikodobu- 
Arapara-Laruni-Jaure. From Jaure lesser 
trails led to Wairopi and Buna. Little was 
known about the route for it had not been 
used in years. The coastal natives avoided 
it because they believed it to be haunted, 

H Ltr, Col Lawrence A. Quinn, CO 126th Inf, 
to CofS 1st Australian Corps (Brig Hopkins), 3 Oct 
42, in 126th Inf Patrol Rpts Jnl, Buna-Papuan 
Campaign; Interv with Col Bernd G. Baetcke, 17 
Nov 50, in OCMH files: 32d Div AAR, Papuan 
Campaign; 126th Inf CT AAR, Papuan Campaign. 
All AAR's and other combat records of the 32d 
Division and its organic and attached units are in 
DRB HRS, AGO. E. J. Kahn, Jr., "The Terrible 
Days of Company E," The Saturday Evening Post, 
January 8, 1944, pp. 9-10. 

55 Kahn, "The Terrible Days of Company E," 
The Saturday Evening Post, January 8, 1944, pp. 
9-10. The allusion was, of course, to the fact that 
company E was the spearhead of the 126th Infantry, 
and the 126th Infantry in its turn was to be the 
spearhead of the division and corps. 



especially at the divide; and no white man 
had passed that way since 1917, a quarter 
of a century before. Although the route had 
the advantage that troops operating over it 
could be supported logistically by land and 
sea for about a third of the distance, it had 
also a very serious disadvantage — a 9,100- 
foot mountain crossing, which the Austra- 
lians feared was impracticable for marching 
troops. General Rowell strongly opposed 
using it and favored an alternative route 
running from Abau to Jaure where the 
crossings were under 5,000 feet. 

After thinking the matter over, General 
MacNider and his group decided to send a 
pathfinder patrol, under Captain Boice, to 
reconnoiter the Kapa Kapa— Jaure trail; and 
General Casey, who was at Port Moresby 
at the time, ordered his deputy, Col. Lief J. 
Sverdrup, to reconnoiter the Abau route. 1 " 

On 17 September, the same day that 
Colonel Sverdrup and a small party left for 
Abau to reconnoiter the route Abau— De- 
bana-Namudi-Jaure (the Abau track), 
Captain Boice, accompanied by 1st Lt. Ber- 
nard Howes and six enlisted men of Com- 
pany E, an officer of ANGAU, and forty 
native carriers, left Port Moresby for Kapa 
Kapa by lugger to begin the reconnaissance 
of the track leading from that point to Jaure. 
The rest of Company E and its attached 
medical personnel and engineer platoon 
were moved out to help a company of the 
91st U. S. Engineers construct a motor road 
from Tupeselei (a few miles southeast of 
Port Moresby) to Kapa Kapa, and thence 

58 Special Abau Reconnaissance Party, MAPLE, 
Orders No. 1, 16 Sep 42, in AFPAC Engr File; 
Memo, Brig Gen Hanford MacNider for Gen Whit- 
lock, 17 Sep 42, copy in OCMH files; Interv with 
Col Baetcke, 17 Nov 50; Maj Alfred Medendorp, 
The March and Operations of the Antitank and 
Cannon Company (32d Inf Div) in the Attack on 
Wairopi, 4 Oct-28 Nov 42, Infantry School Mono- 
graph, copy in TIS Files. 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



95 



to a rubber plantation at Gobaregari near 
Kalikodobu where an advanced base was 
to be established. The opening of the 
road Tupeselei-Kapa Kapa-Kalikodobu, as 
General McNider explained, would allow 
the advance base near Kalikodobu, nick- 
named "Kalamazoo," to be supplied both 
by road and by water and would remove 
entirely the need for air supply until the 
mountains were reached. 37 

The main body of the regiment was now 
ready to move. The combat team, less ar- 
tillery — 180 officers and 3,610 enlisted 
men — took ship for New Guinea on 18 
September. Colonel Quinn, who had been 
at Brett's Wharf, Brisbane, to see his men 
off, arrived at Port Moresby by air on the 
20th, accompanied by two of his staff offi- 
cers, Maj, Simon Warmenhoven, the regi- 
mental surgeon, and Capt. Oliver O. Dixon, 
the regimental S-3, and reported at once to 
General Rowell. 

The regiment reached Port Moresby in 
convoy on 28 September to find that the 
128th Regimental Combat Team, also less 
its artillery, was already there, having com- 
pleted its move to Port Moresby by air five 
days before. The two American regiments, 
each with attached division engineer, medi- 
cal, and signal troops were parceled out on 
arrival to different Australian commands. 58 
The 128th Infantry, commanded by Col. 
J. Tracy Hale, Jr., was assigned to the Port 
Moresby garrison force, and, as such, came 

57 Memo, Gen MacNider for Gen Whitlock, 17 
Sep 42; Rad, Gen MacNider for Gen Whitlock, 5th 
AF, No. S-136, 17 Sep 42; Rad, Col Matthews, 
U. S. Adv Base, New Guinea, to CG USASOS, 18 
Sep 42. Both rads in 384, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 
Ltr, Col L. J. Sverdrup to Gen Casey, 19 Sep 42, 
sub: Rpt No. 1, in AFPAC Engr File; 126th Inf 
CT AAR, Papuan Campaign; AGS SWPA Terrain 
Study No. 28, Main Routes Across New Guinea, 18 
Oct 42, pp. 49-54, 56 -58. 

M Ltr, Col Quinn to Brig Hopkins, 3 Oct 42 ; 
107th Med Bn AAR, Papuan Campaign. 



under the operational control of Headquar- 
ters, 6th Australian Infantry Division, which 
was then in charge of Port Moresby's ground 
defense. It relieved the 808th Engineer Avi- 
ation Battalion (which had been pulled 
from its normal airfield construction duties 
and given a combat role) and took up a 
defensive position along the Goldie River, 
north of Port Moresby. The 126th Infantry 
and attached troops were assigned directly 
to New Guinea Force for use in the advance 
on Wairopi. They went into bivouac at 
Bootless Inlet and were for the time being 
kept in garrison reserve. 59 

The reason for the swift and dramatic 
movement to New Guinea by air of the 
128th Infantry (the greatest that the Air 
Force had undertaken up to that time) soon 
became obvious. It lay in the continued 
advance along the Kokoda Trail of Gen- 
eral Horii's troops. Not only did Horii still 
have the initiative, but he seemed to be 
threatening Port Moresby as it had never 
been threatened before. 

The Japanese Take Ioribaiwa 

When General Horii attacked Efogi spur 
on 8 September, he had five reinforced bat- 
talions of infantry in action. The 21st Bri- 
gade, on the other hand, was down to nine 
companies, and only four of them (the four 
companies of the 2/27 Battalion) had fresh 
troops. Exploiting their numerical superi- 
ority, the Japanese first struck the 2/27 Bat- 
talion, cutting it off from the balance of 



Ltr, CINC SWPA to Comdr ALF et al, 17 Sep 
42, sub : Troop Movement Dir No. 1 ; LHQ OI No. 
35, 17 Sep 42; NGF OI No. 30, 19 Sep 42; Msg, 
Gen Casey to Gen MacArthur, No. 737, 18 Sep 42; 
Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Casey, No. C-561, 
19 Sep 42. All in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 126th Inf 
CT AAR, Papuan Campaign; 128th Inf AAR, 
Papuan Campaign. 



96 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Maroubra Force, then pushed the unit 
completely out of the fight by forcing it off 
the trail. Another Japanese column struck 
elements of the 2/14 and 2/16 Battalions 
echeloned along the trail in rear of the 2/27 
positions, established a trail block, and iso- 
lated 2 1 st Brigade headquarters and a com- 
pany from the 2/14 Battalion. With control 
lost, the command group and the Austra- 
lian infantrymen fought their way through 
the block and with the rest of the 2/14 Bat- 
talion withdrew through the 2/16 Battalion 
to Nauro by nightfall on 9 September. Gen- 
eral Horii had meanwhile called in his 
reserve, the 3d Battalion, 41st Infantry. 
After its arrival in the front lines about 12 
September, the Japanese had two full in- 
fantry regiments on the trail, depleted in 
strength but with engineer and other at- 
tached troops, a force of at least 5,000 men. 60 
The 2/14 and 2/16 Battalions, now with 
a combined strength of 320 men and fight- 
ing as a composite battalion, yielded Nauro 
and fell back to an east-west ridge north of 
Ioribaiwa during 10-1 1 September. Already 
established on the ridge were the 2/1 Pio- 
neer Battalion and the 3 Battalion, 14th 
Brigade (which had come up from Port 
Moresby ahead of the 25th Brigade). The 
2/31 and 2/33 Battalions, the leading ele- 
ments of the 25th Brigade, under Brig. Ken- 
neth W. Eather, reached Ioribaiwa on 14 
September and attempted to drive past 

G-2 Daily Summaries Enemy Intel No. 170, 
8-9 Sep 42, No. 171, 9-10 Sep 42, No. 172, 10-11 
Sep 42: Lanops Bui No. 30, 9 Sep 42, in G 3 Jul, 
GHQ SWPA; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, 
Buna-Ioriba.iwa; Nankai Shitai Opns Order No. A- 
115, 11 Sep 42, in ATIS EP No. 33: Diary, Ae.tg 
Gomdr No. 2 MG Co, 2d Bn, 144th Inf, in ATIS 
GT 29, No. 358. The figure, 5,000, is of course an 
approximation, but it appears reasonably clear from 
captured enemy records that General Horii's front- 
line force, even allowing for heavy losses, and the 
diversion of part of its strength to supply duties, 
was at least 5,000 strong at the time. 



both flanks of the Japanese position. 
When these flanking movements were met 
by a strong counterthrust that pierced the 
Australian line, a further withdrawal was 
ordered to the Imita Range, a strong defen- 
sive position, a full day's march from Ior- 
ibaiwa, and separated from it by the 
deep valley of Ua-Ule Creek. 

The Japanese reached Ioribaiwa on 16 
September and took up a position there. 
The Allied situation was not as difficult as 
it seemed. The Australians, then only one 
pack stage away from Uberi, their main 
rearward supply base, were finally in posi- 
tion to counterattack. 61 

The Japanese supply situation had by this 
time become impossible. That this was the 
case was in large part due to General Ken- 
ncy, who had taken command of the Allied 
Air Forces on 4 August. The Fifth Air 
Force, the American element of the Allied 
Air Forces, which Kenney in the interests of 
greater operational efficiency had estab- 
lished as a separate command in early Sep- 
tember, had completed disrupted Japanese 

1,1 G-2 Daily Summary Enemy Intel No. 174, 12- 
13 Sep 42; ALF Daily Opns Rpt No. 156, 17 Sep 
42 ; ALF Rpt on New Guinea Opns, Buna-Iori- 
baiwa; NGF, Rpt on Opns in New Guinea Opns, 
Ser 3. 

"'' Msg, Gen Kenney to Gen Marshall, No. A -201, 
CM-IN 1752, 4 Aug 42: Fifth Air Force GO No. 1, 
3 Sep 42. When he established the Fifth Air Force, 
General Kenney drew a clear line of demarcation 
between its responsibilities and those of the RAAF. 
Thus, while the Fifth Air Force became responsible 
for operations in the Northeast Area, the RAAF 
took over the responsibility for defense of the Aus- 
tralian continent and particularly of the Darwin 
area. In practice, the Fifth Air Force always had 
the support of Australian squadrons in its opera- 
tions to the northeast of Australia, and the RAAF 
in turn was repeatedly reinforced bv Fifth Air Force 
units, especially at Darwin, which was still under 
regular Japanese air attack. From Darwin, in turn, 
attacks were being mounted on strategic points in 
the Netherlands Indies. AAF, Air Actn in Papua. 
21 Jul 42-23 Jan 43, pp. 51-52, copy in USAF 
Hist Off. 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



97 





BRIDGE AT WAIROPT. Note bombed-out portion of bridge and bomb craters in area. 
(Photograph taken on 1 October 1942.) 



supply. The advance echelon of the air 
force at Port Moresby, under General Ken- 
ney's deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Ennis 
P. Whitehead, was doing a magnificent job 
of pulverizing Japanese lines of communi- 
cation. After considerable experimentation 
it had been found that the A-20 bomber, 
modified to carry eight forward machine 
guns and using a parachute fragmentation 
bomb invented by General Kenney himself, 



was particularly effective in low-level at- 
tacks on Japanese supply trains, dumps, and 
landing barges. The runway at Buna and 
the suspension bridge at Wairopi were un- 
der almost continuous attack. As fast as the 
Japanese naval construction troops at Buna 
filled in the runway, the Fifth Air Force 
would see to it that it was pitted again; and 
efforts of the 15th Independent Engineers 
to keep the Wairopi Bridge in use were 



98 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



being continually set at naught by Fifth Air 
Force and attached RAAF units that would 
roar in at low levels to demolish it. Because 
of the relentless air attack, Japanese supply 
trains were virtually forced off the trails. 53 
Food, as a result, though still available to 
the Japanese in the rear areas, was not get- 
ting through to the front lines. Whole bat- 
talions of the South Seas Detachment were 
foraging everywhere along the trail for food. 
Native gardens along the line of march were 
being stripped of sugar cane, taro, yams, 
pumpkins, melons, and everything else that 
was edible, but there was not enough food in 
that poor upland area to feed such a host 
for long. By September the f ront-line ration 
was down to less than a cupful of rice per 
day. By 17 September, the day after the 
Japanese seizure of Ioribaiwa, with the 
beach at Port Moresby almost visible from 
the height on which the Japanese found 
themselves, there was not a grain of rice 
left on the ridge for issue to the troops. 51 

General Horii's Orders Are Changed 

When he first opened his offensive on 26 
August, General Horii's objective had been 



" s Photo Intel Rpts Buna Runway, Ser 242, 4 Sep 
42, Ser 245, 10 Sep 42, Ser 247, 13 Sep 42, in 
AFPAC Engr File; Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 11 
Sep 42, 17 Sep 42: G-3 Opns Rpt No. 159, 14 Sep 
42; GHQ Sitreps No. 365, 11 Sep 42, No. 370, 17 
Sep 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; GHQ SWPA GO 
No. 34, 15 Sep 42 : 17th Army Intel Rpt No. 36, 23 
Sep 42; USSBS, The Fifth Air Force in the War 
Against Japan (Washington, 1947), p. 27. 

"'Nankai Shitai Directions Regarding Economy 
in the Use of Ammunition and Provisions, 1 Sep 
42: Nankai Shitai Bui Instns, 6 Sep 42; Nankai 
Shitai Instns Concerning Provisions and Forage, 10 
Sep 42; Nankai Shitai Bui No. 3, 13 Sep 42. All 
in ATIS EP No. 33. 17 th Army Intel Rpt, No. 33, 
18 Sep 42, in ATIS EP 28; Diary, Actg Comdr 
No. 2 MG Co, 2d Bn, 144th Inf, in ATIS CT 29. 



Port Moresby. The deterioration of the 
situation at Milne Bay, and the difficulty of 
getting troops ashore at Guadalcanal in the 
face of Allied naval and air forces operating 
in the Solomons area, caused General 
Hyakutake on 29 August to instruct General 
Horii to halt the South Seas Detachment as 
soon as it had reached the southern foothills 
of the Owen Stanley Range. The advance 
was not to be resumed, he was told, until 
such time as Milne Bay had been taken and 
the Guadalcanal operation was progressing 
satisfactorily. Imperial General Headquar- 
ters concurred in these orders and two days 
later directed that General Horii go on the 
defensive as soon as he had crossed the 
Owen Stanley Range. 63 

Upon receipt of these instructions, Gen- 
eral Horii had pressed through the Gap, 
looking for a defensible position on the 
other side of the range which he could hold 
until he was ordered to resume the advance 
on Port Moresby. Horii's first choice had 
been Nauro, but after sending out a recon- 
naissance party forward of Nauro he chose 
Ioribaiwa as the place to make his stand. 
The day after its seizure the troops holding 
it were told that they were to wait there 
until the middle of the following month, 
when it was expected that the final push 
against Port Moresby would be under- 
taken.*" 



M Ltr, Gen Willoughby to Gen Ward, 12 Apr 51 : 
Hist Rec, Army Section Imperial General Head- 
quarters, p. 62; 17th Army Opns, I, 49, 54, 55; 
Southeast Area Naval Opns I, 19. 

M Nankai Shitai Opns Order No. A 1 16, 12 Sep 
42; Memo, Bde Med Dept to Med Offs 41st Inf, 
12 Sep 42, sub: Matters Relating to Health During 
the Period of Waiting; Nankai Shitai Bui No. 3, 13 
Sep 42. All in ATIS EP No. 33. Diary, Actg Comdr 
No. 2 MG Co, 2d Bn, 144th Inf. 



THE JAPANESE OFFENSIVE COLLAPSES 



99 



On 20 September General Horii called 
together his commanders at a hill near his 
headquarters at Nauro and told them how 
things stood. He praised them for the way 
in which they and their men had succeeded 
in crossing "the so-called impregnable 
Stanley Range," and explained that the 
reason for the halt was to regain their fight- 
ing strength, so as to be able, at the proper 
time, "to strike a crushing blow at the 
enemy's positions at Port Moresby." *' 7 
How this was to be done with the existing 
state of supply was not explained. 

Shortly after General Horii had ordered 
his subordinate commanders to hold Iori- 
baiwa he received, as a result of further 
Japanese reverses at Guadalcanal, instruc- 
tions which in effect ordered his withdrawal 
from Ioribaiwa. The Kawaguchi Detach- 
ment, which had finally reached Guadal- 
canal in late August, was virtually wiped 
out on the night of 13-14 September, in the 
Battle of Edson's or Bloodv Ridge. The 
Japanese were thus left without an effective 
striking force on the island. 08 Because of 
this new reverse, and the complete failure of 
the Milne Bay operation, Imperial General 
Headquarters felt impelled once again to 
revise its operational plan for Port Moresby. 
On 18 September new orders were issued 
which emphasized that everything was to 
be subordinated to the retaking of Guadal- 
canal. Existing positions in New Guinea 
were to be held as long as possible, but the 
South Seas Detachment was to be absolved 



" An Address of Instruction by General Horii at 
a hill west of Wamai (Nauro), 20 Sep 42, quoted 
verbatim in Diary, Ac.tg Comdr No. 2 MC Co, 2d 
Bn, 144th Inf. 

"17th Army Opns, I, 39, 43, 54, 55 59, 60; 
Mill er. Gu adalcanal: The First Offensive, pp. 116- 
119,1126 ' 



of the responsibility of maintaining itself 
indefinitely in the southern foothills of the 
Owen Stanley Range. Instead, it was to 
begin preparations at once for the defense 
of the Buna-Gona beachhead, which it was 
to hold as its primary defensive position 
until again ordered to advance. 

By concentrating on the Guadalcanal 
operation and ordering the South Seas De- 
tachment back from the southern foothills 
of the range to the more easily defended 
beachhead, Imperial General Headquar- 
ters could still hope to retrieve the situa- 
tion in both the Solomons and New Guinea. 
It was now planned that, as soon as Guadal- 
canal was retaken, the forces committed to 
that operation would be diverted to New 
Guinea. A part would seize Milne Bay and 
then, in accordance with the original plan, 
would move on Port Moresby by sea. The 
rest would be used to reinforce the South 
Seas Detachment, which, at the proper 
time, would sally forth from the beachhead, 
recross the mountains, and, in spite of all 
previous reverses, complete the Port Mores- 
by operation in concert with the forces com- 
ing in from Milne Bay. fiB 

Complying with his new instructions, 
General Horii began at once to prepare for 
an orderly withdrawal that would com- 
mit a minimum number of troops while 
allowing the forces to the rear the maxi- 
mum possible time to reinforce the beach- 
head. He left the 1st and 3d Battalions of 
the 144th Infantry at Ioribaiwa and two 
companies of the 1st Battalion, 41st Infan- 
try, immediately to the rear at Nauro. The 
remaining battalion of the 144th Infantry 



Hist Rec, Army Section Imperial General Head- 
quarters, pp. 62, 63 ; 17th Army Opns, I, 54, 55, 59, 
60; Southeast Area Naval Opns I, pp. 24, 25. 



100 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



and supporting troops General Horii 
ordered to Isurava. The main body of the 
41st Infantry, less the two companies at 
Nauro and a company at Kokoda, was 
ordered to the Sanananda— Giruwa coastal 
area. 7 " General Horii's instructions to the 
main body of the 144th Infantry were that 
it was to hold Ioribaiwa as long as possible 
and then retire northward to be relieved at 
the proper time by the troops in the 
Kokoda-Isurava area. As the latter fell 
back, they would be relieved in turn by 
troops from the beachhead. 

On 24 September, the day the 2d Bat- 
talion, 144th Infantry, was pulled out of 
the line and sent to Isurava, the 3d Bat- 
talion, 41st Infantry, reached Giruwa. It 
was followed in a few days by the main 
body of the 41st Infantry, under Colonel 
Yazawa. The naval garrison and the air- 
field at Buna were under the command of 
Navy Capt. Yoshitatsu Yasuda, who had 
come in from Rabaul on 17 September 
with 280 Yokosuka 5th SNLF troops. Colo- 
nel Yazawa took over command in the 
Giruwa coastal area, where were to be 
found the main Japanese supply dumps and 
the most important medical installation, 
the 67th Line of Communications Hospital. 
Work on beachhead defenses was well un- 
der way by 23 September. There were sev- 
eral thousand service troops in the rear area 
to do the job, and as each new increment 
of troops reached the coastal area it joined 
with the others in building bunkers, em- 
placing guns, clearing fields of fire, and 



: ° 17th Army Intel Rpts No. 36, 23 Sep 42, No. 
38, 24 Sep 42, No. 39, 26 Sep 42, in ATIS EP 28; 
Diary, Actg Comdr No. 2 MG Co, 2d Bn, 144th 
Inf; Yazawa Det Bivouac Order, 1 Oct 42, Eastern 
Giruwa, in Fid Staff Diary, Medical Capt Fukunobu 
Okabu, inATISEP24. 



otherwise preparing the beachhead for 
defense. 71 

The Australians Take the Offensive 

Allied Land Forces lost no time in taking 
the offensive. On 23 September General 
Blarney, Commander ALF, arrived at Port 
Moresby and took over command of New 
Guinea Force. Lt. Gen. Edmund F. Her- 
ring, succeeding General Rowell, became 
Commander, Advance New Guinea Force. 72 
On 26 September, after aggressive patrol 
action to fix the enemy's position, and a 
short preparation which included an artil- 
lery bombardment by two 25 pounders 
brought up from Uberi, the 25th Brigade 
began an all-out attack on Ioribaiwa, taking 
it with relative ease two days later. 

The Japanese had put up only token re- 
sistance. Instead of making a stand, they 
had abandoned their elaborate positions on 
Ioribaiwa Ridge almost on contact, and had 
retreated so swiftly up the trail that the 
Australians, who took up the pursuit, were 
unable to keep up with them. 73 Like the 
attempt to take Milne Bay, the Japanese 
overland offensive had collapsed. 



" Log, Yokosuka 5th SNLF, 28 May-29 Sep 42, 
in ATIS CT 26, No. 309; Diary, member Yokosuka 
5th SNLF, in ATIS CT 22, No. 269; 17th Army 
Intel Rpts, No. 36, 23 Sep 42, No. 39, 25-26 Sep 

42, No. 40, 27-30 Sep 42, in ATIS EP 38; Yazawa 
Det Bivouac Order, 1 Oct 42, in ATIS EP 24; 
Diary, Actg Comdr No. 2 MG Co, 2d Bn, 144th Inf. 

7! Comdr ALF, Rpt on Opns, 23 Sep 42-22 Jan 

43, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Rpt of CG Buna 
Forces on the Buna Campaign, 1 Dec 42-25 Jan 43, 
p. 45, in DRB HRS, AGO. Upon General Blarney's 
return to Australia, command of New Guinea Force 
would revert to General Herring. 

13 ALF Opns Rpts No. 164, 25 Sep 42, No. 165, 
26 Sep 42 : G- 2 Daily Summary Enemy Intel, No. 
187, 25-26 Sep 42 ; G-3 Opns Rpt, No. 190, 28-29 
Sep 42; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, 23 Sep 
42-22 Jan 43. 



CHAPTER VII 



The Advance on the Beachhead 



The Japanese had again done the unex- 
pected. Instead of holding Ioribaiwa tena- 
ciously as General MacArthur had assumed 
they would, they had thinned out their 
lines and withdrawn after the opening en- 
counter. Their withdrawal, if unexpected, 
nevertheless enabled GHQ for the first time 
in the campaign to issue a comprehensive 
plan on 1 October looking to the envelop- 
ment and destruction of the enemy at the 
Buna Gona beachhead. This plan and the 
more detailed instructions of 1 1 October 



provided for the recapture of Goodenough 
Island and stipulated that the troops avail- 
able to the Commander, New Guinea 
Force, would move on the beachhead along 
three axes of advance : along the Kokoda 
Trail; via the Kapa Kapa-Jaure track or 
the Abau-Namudi-Jaure route; and up the 
coast northwestward from Milne Bay. 
[Map 6) The advance would be in two 
stages. The troops moving overland would, 
before any further advance, secure the line 
of the Kumusi River from the Owalama 





302 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Divide (north of Jaure) to the crossing of 
the Buna-Kokoda track at Wairopi. Those 
moving up from Milne Bay would first se- 
cure Goodenough Island and the coastal 
area to the northward as far as Cape Nel- 
son. When these areas were secured, a con- 
certed advance by all land forces upon the 
Buna-Gona area would be ordered. 1 

The Approach to the Target 

General Mac Arthur 
Explains the Plan 

Because General MacArthur always had 
to consider the possibility that the Japanese 
might succeed in retaking Guadalcanal, and 
that they would then throw all their avail- 
able forces into New Guinea, the plan had 
been so drawn that his troops could be ex- 
tricated should they be met by overwhelm- 
ing force or should their supply lines by sea 
or across the mountains fail. Emphasizing 
that the situation in the Solomons had "a 
direct and vital bearing upon our opera- 
tions," General MacArthur explained the 
basic reason for the provision in the Opera- 
tion Order of 1 October which required 
that the line of the Kumusi River be secured 
in preparation for "an offensive against the 
north coast of New Guinea to be executed 
upon order from General Headquarters." 

. . . the successful employment, [he wrote] 
of any considerable number of troops on the 
north shore of New Guinea is entirely depend- 
ent upon lines of communication. The enemy 
has complete control of the sea lanes, and we 
are not now, nor have any reasonable expecta- 
tion of being in position to contest that con- 
trol. In consequence, although we shall em- 
ploy shipping to the maximum extent possible 



1 GHQ SWPA OI No. 19, 1 Oct. 42; Plan of 
Commander, ALF in New Guinea, 1 1 Oct. 42, copy 
in OCMH. 



in the supply of our troops, our fundamental 
plans are limited by the fact that the enemy 
can cut that line at will, even with so small a 
force as a few torpedo boats. . . . 

The general continued: 

... It must be contemplated that any or- 
ganization engaged on the north shore of New 
Guinea must be ready and able to withdraw 
successfully across the mountains with only 
such supplies as can be made available by air 
and by native carriers. A local success attained 
at a time when the enemy is devoting his 
attention to the Solomons, must not blind us 
to the fact that basic conditions which have 
heretofore limited our action in New Guinea 
arc. unchanged, and that in the absence of se- 
cure lines of communication on the north 
coast of New Guinea we still are unable to 
maintain large forces there. In consequence, 
our advance must be so planned that if supply 
lines fail, or if we are met by overwhelming 
forces, we can withdraw to our previously oc- 
cupied defensive positions. 

It was with an eye to such an eventuality 
that Colonel Sverdrup (who had meanwhile 
reported adversely on the Abau-Jaure 
track) had again been sent to New Guinea 
with instructions to discover and develop 
landing strips and dropping grounds in the 
area beyond the mountains north of Abau. 1 

General MacArthur's purpose was clear. 
The risks of the advance would be counter- 
balanced by a secure line of retreat. If the 



2 Ltr, Gen MacArthur to Gen Blarney, 20 Oct 42, 
in 384, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. Sverdrup, who had 
just returned to Australia, had found the track ex- 
tremely difficult for marching and out of the ques- 
tion for use by either jeeps or pack animals. On 14 
October GHQ, which had expected to send the 
127th Infantry over it, canceled all plans for its use 
as an axis of advance to the battlefield. Msg, Gen 
MacArthur to Gen Blarney, No. C-667, 27 Sep 42: 
GHQ SWPA Troop Dir No. 5, 30 Sep 42; GHQ 
SWPA OI No. 20, 14 Oct 42 ; Msg, Gen MacArthur 
to Gen Blarney, No. C-8533, 14 Oct 42. All in G-3 
Jnl, GHQ SWPA. Memo, Gen Casey for Gen 
Sutherland, 3 Oct 42, sub: Summary of Findings 
and Recommendations pertaining to Abau Project, 
in 384, G 3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 



THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 



103 



maneuver for whatever reason turned out 
badly, it would at least be possible to ex- 
tricate the forces and use them to fight again 
under more favorable circumstances. 

Logistic Preparations 

As preparations for the offensive gath- 
ered momentum, a much-needed consolida- 
tion of Australian and U. S. supply services 
in New Guinea was effected. On 5 October 
General Headquarters established the Com- 
bined Operational Service Command 
(COSC). The new command was to op- 
erate under New Guinea Force and to con- 
trol all Allied line of communications activ- 
ities in Australian New Guinea. Brig. Gen. 
Dwight F. Johns, U. S. A., Deputy Com- 
mander, United States Army Services of 
Supply, was designated its commander, and 
Brig. V. C. Secombe, Australian Staff 
Corps, became his deputy. All Australian 
and U. S. supply elements in the forward 
area were placed under General Johns's 
command. In addition to carrying out 
routine service of supply functions, the new 
command took over control of a pool of 
small boats or luggers which were being as- 
sembled at Milne Bay for use in operations 
against Buna. 3 

Dock and port improvements at Milne 
Bay and Port Moresby were by this time well 
advanced. The acute shortage of engineer 
troops in the combat zone was being reme- 
died by the transfer to New Guinea 
from Australia of all available engineer 
troops, a process that in the case of the 
U.S. engineers had begun in earnest in Au- 
gust. At Milne Bay, a permanent T-shape 
wharf to replace the previous makeshift 

8 Ltr, CINCSWPA to Comdr ALF, 5 Oct 42, sub: 
Establishment of an Operational Service Comd in 
New Guinea, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA: ALF, Rpt 
on New Guinea Opns, 23 Sep 42-22 Jan 43. 



was finished in early October. At Port 
Moresby the half-mile causeway to Tatana 
Island was completed by the end of the 
month. The benefit to x\llied logistics was 
very great. Several large ships could be un- 
loaded simultaneously, where previously it 
had been possible to unload only one. A 
small tropical anchorage, capable initially 
of unloading and storing only 500 tons of 
cargo a day, had been transformed into a 
busy port which already had several times 
that capacity, and which ultimately would 
have a capacity nine times that figure. It 
was a noteworthy achievement, and one of 
which General Casey could well be proud. 4 
The airfield construction program was 
almost complete. With few exceptions, the 
airfields at both Port Moresby and Milne 
Bay were either finished or due to be com- 
pleted shortly, and a 120-day supply level 
was being built up at both points. 5 A tre- 
mendous amount of construction still re- 
mained to be done in the forward area, but 
it could be completed concurrently with 
the offensive. 

The Recapture of Kokoda 

To marshal the troops and bring them in 
concerted fashion before their objective over 
the mountains and along the coast of a vast, 



* Msg, Gen Casey to Gen MacArthur, No. 540, 
14 Sep 42; Msg, Gen Casey to Gen Sutherland, No. 
739, 18 Sep 42 ; Msg, Col Matthews, US Adv Base 
New Guinea, to CG USASOS, No. SR. 39, 6 Oct 
42. All in 826, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. Msg, Brig 
Gen Dwight F. Johns, CG COSC, to Gen Mac- 
Arthur, No. RA 866, 30 Oct 42, in 385, G-3 Files, 
GHQ SWPA; Msg, MacArthur to Marshall, No. 
G-731, CM-IN 07247, 17 Oct 42. 

5 Msg, Col Matthews, Adv Base New Guinea, to 
CG USASOS, No. 712, 18 Sep 42; Msg, Gen Mac- 
Arthur to Gen Blarney, No. C-667, 27 Sep 42; in 
G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Msg, ALF to G-3, GHQ 
SWPA, No. 044, 2742, in 385, G-3 Files, GHQ 
SWPA. 



104 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



undeveloped, jungle-covered island like 
New Guinea was to be no easy task. The 
first drive, that along the Kokoda Trail, 
was already under way, with the Australians 
under Maj. Gen. Arthur S. Allen, General 
Officer Commanding, 7th Australian Infan- 
try Division, in pursuit of the retreating 
Japanese. After abandoning Ioribaiwa, the 
latter had withdrawn through the Gap, and 
by 8 Octobe r were at Templeton's Crossing. 
{Map III) Entrenching themselves on high 
ground on either side of the entrance to 
Eora Creek Gorge, the Japanese, now prin- 
cipally troops of the 2d Battalion, 144th 
Infantry, held for a week and then withdrew 
to Eora Creek. On orders of General Horii, 
who was then at Kokoda, the main body of 
the 144th Infantry rejoined the 2d Battalion 
on 1 7 October at Eora Creek where a fur- 
ther stand was made. 6 

The Japanese had suffered heavy losses 
at the hands of the Australians and were 
being relentlessly bombed and strafed from 
the air by the Fifth Air Force. Their troops 
were suffering from beriberi, dysentery, lack 
of food, and some had already begun to 
practice cannibalism. 7 Yet they held to their 
positions tenaciously and could be dislodged 
only by frontal attack and the same flanking 
tactics that the Japanese themselves had 
used so effectively in the advance to 
Ioribaiwa. 

The troops of the 25th Brigade, forced to 



" Nankai Shitai Opns Order "KO" No. 3 27, 14 
Oct 42; "KO" No. 128, 15 Oct 42, in ATIS EP 39; 
Diary, Actg Comdr No. 2 MG Co. 2d Bn, 144th 
Inf; Comdr ALF, Rpt On New Guinea Opns, 23 
Sep 42-22 Jan 43. 

' Diary, Actg Comdr, No. 2 MG Co. 2d Bn, 14-4-th 
Inf. This Japanese officer, then at Eora Creek, 
noted in his diary on 1 7 October, that his troops 
had been reduced to eating roots and grass, and, 
two days later, wrote that "because of the food 
shortage, some companies have been eating human 
flesh [Australian soldiers]." 



scale the heights where the enemy troops 
were entrenched, pushed them out of one 
strongpoint after the other. The 16th Brig- 
ade, under Brig. John E. Lloyd, relieved the 
25th Brigade on 20 October. Aided by the 
25th Brigade's 2/31 Battalion, the fresh 
troops of the new brigade soon cleared the 
Japanese out of the Eora Creek area and; 
shortly thereafter, forced them out of Alola. 
The 144th Infantry next fell back on Oivi 
where it was relieved on 29 October by a 
fresh force from the beachhead under com- 
mand of Colonel Yazawa. The new force, 
a composite battalion of 41st Infantry troops 
strongly reinforced with artillery and engi- 
neer elements, was ordered to dig itself in 
on the heights at Oivi and to hold its posi- 
tions as long as possible in order to cover 
the movement of the 144th Infantry across 
the Kumusi River. The 41st Infantry troops, 
who had brought all the food and ammuni- 
tion with them that they and hundreds of 
impressed Rabaul natives could carry, 
quickly dug themselves in on the heights and 
prepared for a major stand. 

After a short rest the 25th Brigade had 
again gone into action, and it occupied 
Kokoda on 2 November. The Australian 
flag was raised there on that day by Maj. 
Gen, George A. Vasey, who had taken over 
command of the 7th Division from General 
Allen a few days before. With Kokoda air- 
field in Australian hands, and the 25th and 
16th Brigades converging on Oivi, the pur- 
suit was virtually over. 8 The troops along 
the first axis of advance had almost reached 
their objective. 



* T omit a Del Bivouac Order No. 1, Giruwa, 25 
Oct 42, in ATIS EP 24 ; Nankai Shitai Opns Orders 
"KO" No. 131, 26 Oct 42, "HEI" No. 11, 27 Oct 
42, "KO" No. 132, 30 Oct 42, "KO" No. 133, 31 
Oct 42, in ATIS EP 39; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea 
Opns, 23 Sep 42- 22 Jan 43 ; Buggy, Pacific Victory, 
p. 1 90. 



THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 



105 



Securing the Coast 

The problem still remained how to secure 
the coast from Milne Bay to Cape Nelson. 
Since there were then no landing craft in 
the theater, General MacArthur had issued 
orders in August that as many shallow-draft 
boats as possible be assembled at Milne Bay 
to serve the purpose. 8 

Planning for the move had scarcely begun 
when the possibility arose that Marine 
Corps troops would be made available for 
the task. The initiative had come from Ad- 
miral King, who ordered Admiral Nimitz 
on 8 September to release a regiment of 
trained amphibious troops to the Southwest 
Pacific Area. The 8th Marine Regiment was 
chosen for the task. Notified four days later 
by General Marshall that the regiment 
would be turned over to him by Admiral 
Ghormley on or about 1 October, General 
MacArthur began at once to plan for the 
use of the Marine unit in the coastal 
infiltration. 10 

General MacArthur did not get the Ma- 
rine regiment. Admirals Nimitz and Ghorm- 
ley had grave objections to releasing it and 
told Admiral King that this highly trained 
amphibious unit should not be used to do 
a job that General MacArthur's available 
troops in shallow-draft barges could prob- 
ably do as well. Admiral King apparently 
considered the point well taken. The offer 
of amphibious troops was withdrawn, and 
General MacArthur was left with the task 

3 Msgs, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 
Q-147, CM-IN 1607, 2 Aug 42, No. C-301, CM- 
IN 7017, 19 Aug 42: GHQ SWPA OI No. 15, 
16 Aug 42. 

"Msg, CINCPAC to GOMSOPAC, No. 081736, 
8 Sep 42, in Pac Strat File, Exec OPD File; Msg, 
Marshall to MacArthur, No. 1719, CM-OUT 4272, 
1 2 Sep 42 ; Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen MacArthur, 25 
Sep 42; Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Blarney, No. 
C-667, 27 Sep 42. Both In G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



of securing the northeast coast of Papua as 
best he could from his own resources. 11 

By this time, it had become clear that to 
send the troops up the coast by boat would 
be both slow and dangerous. For one thing 
there were not nearly enough shallow-draft 
boats in sight to do the job properly; for 
another the route between Milne Bay and 
Cape Nelson and beyond Cape Nelson was 
strewn with uncharted reefs. Finally, as 
General Blarney observed to General Mac- 
Arthur, to use the boats for the forward 
movement would not only delay the opera- 
tion but might also result in the troops' 
meeting the same fate that befell the Jap- 
anese on Goodenough Island. 

There was fortunately a better way. In 
July the local Australian authorities had 
cleared off and barricaded an airstrip at 
Wanigela Mission on Collingwood Bay, a 
point within easy marching distance of 
Cape Nelson. It became possible therefore 
to get the troops forward by air, and to use 
the boats to supply them from Milne Bay 
as soon as a clear channel could be charted 
through the reefs. The air force, which by 
this time had the space, undertook to fly 
the troops in, and a party of coastwatchers 
in the small motorship HMAS Paluma 
began charting the required clear-water 
channel to Cape Nelson. 12 



11 Msg, Marshall to MacArthur, No. 2030, CM- 
OUT 7382, 22 Sep 42; Msg, MacArthur to Mar- 
shall, No. C-554, CM-IN 9987, 23 Sep 42; Msgs, 
COMSOPACFOR to COMINCH, 0800, 27 Sep 
42, 0256, 29 Sep 42, Pac Strat File, OPD Files. 

12 Memo, Cols Sheehan and Larr, G-3 Sec SWPA, 
for Gen Chamberlin, 30 Jul 42, sub: Immediate 
Action Required in the Buna-Milne Bay Area: 
Memo, Gen Sutherland to Gen Blarney, 11 Aug 42, 
sub: Wanigela Mission; Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen 
MacArthur, 25 Sep 42 ; Msg, Gen Blarney to Gen 
MacArthur, No. 1314, 1 Oct 42. All in G-3 Jnl, 
GHQ SWPA. AAF, Air Force Statistical Digest 
World War II, Tab 93, p. 170, copy in OCMH 
files; Feldt, The Coast Watchers, pp. 186-91. 



106 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



The 2/10 Battalion of the 18th Brigade 
and attached U. S. engineer and antiaircraft 
troops were flown into Wanigela from 
Milne Bay on 5 and 6 October by the 21st 
and 22d Transport Squadrons of the Fifth 
Air Force. The troops immediately began 
securing the area and preparing it for the 
reception of more troops. By that time the 
Paluma had completed the charting of the 
channel to Cape Nelson, and the boats, 
laden with supplies, began moving forward 
to Wanigela from Milne Bay. 13 

General Blarney had planned to follow 
the 2/10 Battalion with the rest of the 18th 
Brigade as soon as the 1 7th Brigade (which 
was to replace it at Milne Bay) arrived 
there and the supply of the Wanigela area 
by sea was assured. To wait for the arrival 
of the 1 7th Brigade would have meant a 
considerable delay inasmuch as it was not 
due at Milne Bay until late October. Gen- 
eral Blarney decided therefore to use the 
128th Infantry (then still at Port Moresby) 
to reinforce the Wanigela garrison. By- 
doing so, Blarney believed he would not 
only save time but would also help out the 
air force, which was reluctant to use the 
airfields at Milne Bay for troop movements 
because they were inferior to those at Port 
Moresby. 14 

On 13 October the 2/6 Independent 
Company and the 2d and 3d Battalions of 
the 128th Infantry were ordered to Wani- 
gela by air, the 3d Battalion, under Lt. Col. 
Kelsie E. Miller, leading. The air move- 



" Memo, Gen Chamberlin for Gen Sutherland, 6 
Oct 42 ; Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen MacArthur, 7 Oct 
42; Msg, Col Matthews to GG USASOS, No. SR 
65, 7 Oct 42. All in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. AAF, 
Air Action in the Papuan Campaign, pp. 69-70; 
Feldt, The Coast Watchers, p. 190. 

14 Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen MacArthur, 7 Oct 42 ■ 
NGF OI No. 35, 8 Oct 42 ; Msg, Gen Blarney to Gen 
MacArthur, No. Z-29, 10 Oct 42. All in G-3 Jnl 
GHQ, SWPA. 



mcnts began next morning with the initial 
flights originating at Laloki airfield near 
Port Moresby. By 1 8 October, most of the 
regiment was at Wanigela. The Band, the 
Antitank Company, the Service Company, 
and two companies of the 1st Battalion had 
to be left temporarily at Port Moresby when 
the field at Wanigela became unusable be- 
cause of heavy rains. 1 " 

Preliminary reconnaissance had indi- 
cated that there were excellent trails in the 
Wanigela-Cape Nelson area. It was there- 
fore planned that the troops would march 
from Wanigela to Pongani, a point on the 
western shore of Dyke Ackland Bay, about 
thirty miles from Buna, which was known 
to be free of Japanese. The men of the Aus- 
tralian Independent Company, who were 
specially trained in jungle operations, were 
to go first, and the 3d, 2d, and 1st Battal- 
ions, 128th Infantry, were to follow in that 
order. The trail, which lay diagonally across 
the neck of the Cape Nelson Peninsula, was 
cut by the Musa River at Totore, a day's 
march from Wanigela, and reputedly the 
only good river crossing in the area. 

It was soon discovered that the recon- 
naissance reports had been mistaken about 
the condition of the trails in the Wanigela- 
Pongani area. The river was rising rapidly 
and most of the trails in the area had been 
obliterated. Traveling with little but their 
rifles, the Australian commandos who left 
on the 14th as planned, managed to reach 
Pongani, but the heavily loaded 3d Battal- 



,n Plan of Comdr Allied Land Forces in New 
Guinea As Arranged in Conf, 11 Oct 42; Ltr, Gen 
Harding to Gen Sutherland, 12 Oct 42; NGF OI 
No. 38, 1 3 Oct 42 ; Col J. Tracy Hale, Jr., Answers 
to Questions by Hist Sec, GHQ SWPA, As to Cer- 
tain Phases of the Papuan Campaign. All in G-3 
Jnl, GHQ SWPA. Ltr Col Miller to Gen Ward, 26 
Mar 51 ; 128th Inf Hist of Papuan Campaign; 32d 
Div AAR, Papuan Campaign. 



THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 



107 



ion, only a day behind the Australians, was 
unable to get through. After floundering in 
knee-deep swamps, the men reached Totore 
on the afternoon of 1 6 October, and went 
into camp near by at Guri Guri, called by 
Colonel Miller "the most filthy, swampy, 
mosquito infested area" that he had ever 
seen in New Guinea. 

A crossing by log raft was attempted at 
a nearby native village. Reconnaissance on 
the far side showed that a crossing there 
would put the battalion on the wrong route, 
and the project was abandoned in favor of a 
crossing farther upstream. On 18 October, 
1,500 feet of cable was dropped from the 
air at Guri Guri. No tools, tie wire, clamps, 
or bolts were dropped with the cable. Com- 
pany M, under Capt. Frank N. Williams, 
and a platoon of Company C, 1 14th Engi- 
neer Battalion, carried the cable, strung out 
by hand, to the upstream site and started 
establishing the crossing there. 

Though still without tools, clamps, or tie 
wire, Captain Williams soon had a make- 
shift crossing over the Musa. Tt too was 
abandoned when ANGAU passed on the 
information that the trail leading out of the 
site was under seven feet of water, and im- 
passable to anything except small boats and 
native canoes. 

On 23 October Company M and the 
engineer platoon rejoined the 3d Battalion, 
which had been ordered from Guri Guri to 
Gobe, west of Porlock Harbor. The battal- 
ion was to be shuttled from Gobe to Pongani 
in such of the boats coming in with sup- 
plies from Milne Bay as could negotiate the 
treacherous waters around Cape Nelson. 
The 2d Battalion, which had been just be- 
hind the 3d on the Wanigela-Totore track, 
was ordered back to Wanigela, to be moved 
to Pongani by sea as soon as shipping was 
available. The elements of the 1st Battal- 



ion present at Wanigela were to follow im- 
mediately, and the rest of the battalion was 
to be transferred to Pongani in the same 
fashion as soon as it reached Wanigela. ]|J 

The 3d Battalion marched overland from 
Totore to Gobe in two echelons, taking 
approximately four days for the move. 
Some of the men picked up malaria in the 
mosquito-infested swamps along the Musa, 
and the weakening effects of the march were 
apparent in the subsequent operations of 
the battalion. 17 

The coastal shuttle had meanwhile gone 
into operation, despite the fact that little 
was known at that time about the waters 
past Wanigela. The available information 
was that boats of up to twelve-foot draft 
could safely negotiate the coastal waters 
between Milne Bay and Wanigela, but that 
only small luggers or trawlers would be able 
to get around Cape Nelson because of sub- 
merged reefs in that area, some of them only 
a few feet from the surface. The plan for 
the shuttle was worked out accordingly. 
Large fishing boats of between 100 and 120 
tons, loaded so as to draw not more than 
twelve feet of water, would bring the sup- 
plies forward from Milne Bay to Wanigela, 
and a flotilla of eight luggers with an aver- 



"Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen Mac Arthur, 18 Oct 
42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Ltrs, Gen Harding 
to Gen MacNider, Wanigela, 19 Oct 42 and 21 Oct 
42; Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen Sutherland, 20 Oct 
42; Memos, Gen MacNider for Gen Harding, 21 
Oct 42 and 22 Oct 42, copies in OGMH files; 
Interv with Gen Chamberlin, 14 Jan 50; Ltr, Col 
Miller to Gen Ward, 27 Mar 51 ; Ltr, Col Miller to 
author, 7 Jan 52; 114th Engr Bn, Engr Opns in 
the Papuan Campaign; 128th Inf Hist of Papuan 
Campaign. 

" Ltr, Col Alexander J. MacNab to Gen Ward, 7 
Mar 51; Ltr, Col Miller to author, 7 Jan 52; Col 
Hale, Answers to Questions by Hist Sec, GHQ 
SWPA, as to Certain Phases of the Papuan Cam- 
paign; 128th Inf Hist of Papuan Campaign; 32d 
Div AAR, Papuan Campaign. 



108 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



age displacement of about 20 tons, would 
carry them around Cape Nelson to Pongani. 
The larger boats were to be under control 
of the Combined Operational Service Com- 
mand, while the luggers would come under 
command of Lt. Col. Laurence A. Mc- 
Kenny, Quartermaster of the 3 2d Divi- 
sion. 18 

The first two luggers reached Wanigela 
on 17 October and were at once sent for- 
ward to Pongani with men and supplies. 
Early the following morning, a Fifth Air 
Force B-25 mistook them for the enemy and 
bombed the boats off Pongani. Two men 
were killed : Lt. A. B. Fahnestock, in charge 
of small boat operations for the COSC, and 
Byron Darnton, a veteran correspondent of 
The New York Times who had served with 
the 32d Division during World War I, and 
had looked forward to reporting its opera- 
tions in World War II. Several others were 
wounded, and one of the boats suffered such 
severe damage that it had to be withdrawn 
from the run. 19 



" Msgs, Col Matthews to CG USASOS, No. SR 
35, 6 Oct 42, No. SR 65, 7 Oct 42; Msg, Gen 
Mac Arthur to Gen Blarney, No. C-892, 18 Oct 42. 
All in 384, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. Msg, ALF to 
Milcomd, Moresby, No. QM 57797, 24 Oct 42, in 
385, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA; 32d QM Bn, Rpt on 
Activities, Papuan Campaign; 107th QM Det, Hist 
Papuan Campaign; Interv with Gen Harding, 29 
Jun 49. 

19 Ltr, Lt Col Laurence A. McKenny, QMC, to 
Gen MacNider, n. d., sub: Report of attack by 
unidentified bomber at Pongani, New Guinea, 18 
Oct 42, copy in OCMH files; Allied Air Force Opns 
Rpt, 2400, 18 Oct 42. In a letter to General Suther- 
land, General Harding had this to say of the blun- 
der, "Everyone hereabouts is distressed over the 
death of Darnton and Fahnestock. I knew Darnton 
quite well . . . and considered him one damn good 
correspondent and swell guy. He was hot to be on 
the spot for the first contact of American Army 
ground troops with the Japs. I told him that this 
would probably be it and gave him permission to 
go." Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen Sutherland, 20 Oct 
42, copy in OCMH files. 



Despite this initial error, and the fact that 
the luggers did not operate during daylight 
to avoid being attacked by Japanese air- 
craft, the Wanigela-Pongani shuttle con- 
tinued in successful operation through the 
rest of October. The few quartermaster 
troops under Colonel McKenny's com- 
mand had a difficult time of it. There were 
no piers or jetties in the area and no light- 
ers. To unload the luggers they had to pile 
the cargo on native outrigger canoes, row- 
boats, or canvas-sided engineer boats. 
Then, aided wherever possible by natives 
and tactical forces from the shore, they 
would take to the water and, stark naked, 
push the tiny craft through the breakers, 
unload, and go back again, making dozens 
of trips through the night without rest in 
order to be on their way again before day- 
light. 20 

These small seaborne supply and troop 
movements had their effect. By 2 Novem- 
ber, the day the Australians retook Kokoda, 
the 1 28th Infantry, less only the elements 
still at Port Moresby, was at Pongani and 
Mendaropu and rapidly growing supply 
dumps had been established at both points. 21 

The discovery by the Paluma in early 
November that the larger vessels operated 
by the COSC could safely round Cape Nel- 
son further increased the usefulness of the 
luggers. The bigger boats from Milne Bay 
began discharging their cargo at Porlock 



w 32d QM Bn, Rpt on Activities, Papuan Cam- 
paign ; 107th QM Det, Hist Papuan Campaign: 
32d Div AAR, Papuan Campaign; E. J. Kahn, Jr., 
G. I. Jungle (New York, 1943), p. 88. 

31 Msg, Gen Blarney to Gen Mar Arthur, No. Z- 
108, 2 Nov 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Msg, 
Col Matthews to CINCSWPA, No. P-48, 5 Nov 42, 
in 384, No. 2, New Guinea File, G-3 Files, GHQ 
SWPA. 



110 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Harbor, and the luggers, in turn, began 
shuttling between Porlock and Pongani. 22 

The Recapture of Goodenougk Island 

GHQ had ordered that, in addition to 
securing the coast between Milne Bay and 
Cape Nelson, the Commander, New Guinea 
Force, was to recapture Goodenough Island, 
a flanking position which in enemy hands 
could imperil the advance along the north- 
east coast of Papua. The task of taking the 
island went to the 2/1 2 Battalion of the 1 8th 
Brigade, then still at Milne Bay. The 
troops, in two destroyers, were landed on 
both sides of the island's southern tip on 
the night of 22-23 October and drove in- 
land. 23 

There were some 290 Japanese on the 
island, sixty of the 353 troops of the Sasebo 
5th SNLF who had been stranded there on 
26 August having been evacuated to Buna 
by submarine before the Australians 
landed. 24 The submarine had brought in 
food and ammunition, and the remaining 
Japanese, well dug in, resisted tenaciously 
during the daylight hours of the 23d, but 
only to gain time. That night, the subma- 
rine came in again. Shuttling back and 

22 Msg, Gen MacArthur to CG USASOS, No. C- 
1065, 3 Nov 42, in 384, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA; 
Memo, NOIC Port Moresby for NGF, 4 Nov 42, 
sub: Milne Bay to Buna Sea Route, in G-3 Jnl, 
GHQ SWPA; Interv with Gen Harding, 9 Dec 47. 

M NGF OI No. 19, 1 Oct 42, and No. 39, 17 Oct 
42 ; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, Goodenough 
Island and Milne Bay. 

" AMF, Interr Gen Adachi et al.; Naval Account, 
Japanese Invasion Eastern New Guinea. An enemy 
diary captured at Buna recounts that since the 
Japanese troops stranded on Goodenough Island 
'were without provisions and communications facil- 
ities, three messengers were sent [to Buna] for help. 
Before departure, these three men burned their 
skin to look like natives. They accomplished their 
mission after covering more than 100 rautical miles 
in a canoe." Diary, member 15th Naval Pioneer 
Unit, in ATIS CT 14, No. 176. 



forth through the night, it deposited 250 
Japanese troops on nearby Fergusson 
Island, where they were picked up by a 
cruiser and taken to Rabaul. The few 
stragglers left behind on Goodenough were 
quickly mopped up by the Australians who 
at once took appropriate measures for the 
island's security." 

The March to Jaure 

On the Kapa Kapa trail, meanwhile, 
Captain Boice and a small party were ad- 
vancing toward Jaure and Major Baetcke, 
in command at "Kalamazoo," was building 
a forward supply base at Arapara, about 
thirty miles away by trail. Though the road 
was still unfinished, it was possible by this 
time for jeeps to travel over it as far as 
Nepeana, a distance of about fourteen miles. 
Over the remaining sixteen miles the track 
was so steep and so rough that native car- 
riers had to be used to do the job. Super- 
vised by ANGAU officers the natives were 
hard at work moving the supplies forward 
on their backs. 2 " 

The results of Captain Boice's reconnais- 
sance were soon in. After being delayed at 
Laruni, about fifty miles out, because he 
had run out of rations and an airdrop that 
he had asked for had not materialized in 
time, Boice had finally reached Jaure on 4 
October. Next day he reported by radio 
that the trail although taxing was prac- 
ticable for marching. General Harding, who 
had moved the divisional CP to Kalamazoo, 



28 AMF, Interr Gen Adachi et al.; Naval Account, 
Japanese Invasion Eastern New Guinea, p. 27; ALF, 
Rpt on New Guinea Oons, Goodenough Islard and 
Milne Bay. 

21 Memo, Col Quinn for Brig Hopkins, 3 Oct 42, 
sub: Report of Reconnaissance, Ccbaregari— Jaure 
track, in 126th Inf CT Patrol Rpts Jnl; Interv with 
Col Baetcke, 1 Nov 50. 



THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 



111 




KAPA KAPA TRAIL, SEPTEMBER 1942 



at once secured permission from New 
Guinea Force to send forward an advance 
echelon of the 1 26th Infantry. Except for 
Company E, at Nepeana, the regiment was 
then encamped at Bootless Inlet near Port 
Moresby. The advance unit was to be com- 
posed of the 2d Battalion, 1 26th Infantry, 
supported by troops of the regimental Anti- 
tank and Cannon Companies operating as 
riflemen, who were to go first. 

The Antitank and Cannon Companies 
and a small medical detachment, all under 
the command of Captain Medcndorp, left 
Kalikodobu for Nepeana en route to Jaure 
on 6 October. x\t Nepeana> Medendorp was 
to use forty-five men from Company E — a 
five-man communications detachment un- 



der 1st Lt. James G. Downer and a forty- 
man rifle platoon under 1st Lt. Harold B. 
Chandler, Jr. — as his advance guard. The 
force as it left Kalikodobu numbered 250, 
with 100 natives attached. Medendorp's 
orders were to establish dropping grounds 
at Laruni and Jaure and to build up stocks 
of food and supplies there for the use of the 
main force when it began moving. By ar- 
rangement with the air force, the Band, 
Service, and Casual Companies were to load 
the planes and do the actual dropping. 

Because the troops were fresh to the jun- 
gle, too heavily burdened, and not in top 
condition, the first day's march to Nepeana 
(where Company E was encamped) did not 
go well. Hearing that the troops had fared 



112 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



badly, General Harding, who reached 
Nepeana by jeep early the next morning to 
see the men off, gave orders that their packs 
be lightened and their ammunition cut 
down. In addition, he ordered the forty- 
five men detailed as advance guard to push 
ahead for Jaure "without regard to the 
progress of the other two companies. . . . : ' 
Lieutenants Downer and Chandler — Dow- 
ner going first — were to come under com- 
mand of Captain Boice upon their arrival 
at Jaure, where they were ultimately to be 
reunited with their company. 27 

The second day's march, through com- 
paratively easy country, went off without 
difficulty. The next day when the foothills 
of the range were reached told a different 
story, especially for the troops of the Anti- 
tank and Cannon Companies. These men 
were in much poorer condition than the 
men of the advance guard, who had been 
longer in the area and had had a chance to 
toughen up while helping the engineers 
build the road to Nepeana. 

As Medendorp recalls the situation : 

The troops had no trail discipline. The hills 
were steeper. Footing was insecure. Leeches 
and insects began to be a nuisance. The trail 
was strewn with cast-off articles. Leather toilet 
sets, soap, socks, and extra underwear told a 
tale of exhaustion and misery. Upon reaching 
streams, the men would rush to them and 
drink, regardless of the fact that upstream 
some soldier might be washing his feet. The 
trail was filled with struggling individuals, 
many lying on one side panting for breath. 
The medical officer bringing up the rear, 



" Memo, Col Quinn for Brig Hopkins, 3 Oct 42, 
sub: Report of Reconnaissance, Cobaregari-Jaure 
track; Memo, Col Quinn for Gen Harding, 15 Oct 
42. Both in 126th Inf CT Patrol Rpts Jnl. Ltr, Gen 
Harding to Gen Sutherland, 12 Oct 42: Maj Med- 
endorp, The March and Operations of the Antitank 
and Cannon Companies, 126th Infantry, 4 Oct-28 
Nov 42. 



reached the bivouac that night with a platoon 
of limping and dazed men. There were no 
stragglers however, for it was feared all 
through the march that stragglers might be 
killed by a Jap patrol. 2 " 

On the fourth day the troops reached 
Arapara, halfway to Laruni, and the last 
point which could be supplied from Kala- 
mazoo. 2M The next day most of the native 
carriers deserted, and the weary troops were 
left to carry their rations and heavy supplies 
themselves. 

After a hard uphill climb the Medendorp 
force reached Laruni, which was on a 
mountain top, on 1 3 October. The advance 
guard, traveling light and moving fast, was 
a day ahead. On 14 October, just as the 
Medendorp force began establishing a 
dropping ground at Laruni, the 2d Battal- 
ion, 126th Infantry, under the battalion 
commander, Lt. Col. Henry A. Geerds, 
began leaving Kalikodobu for Jaure. At- 
tached was the 19th Portable Hospital and 
a platoon of the 1 14th Engineer Battalion. 
The force was almost 900 strong and had 
several hundred native carriers accompany- 
ing it. The companies were following each 
other at a day's interval, with Company E, 



Maj Medendorp, The March and Operations 
of the Antitank and Cannon Companies, 1 26th In- 
fantry, 4 Oct-28 Nov 42. 

20 Just as the troops were settling themselves for 
the night, thirty- five men of the 21st Brigade, whom 
the Japanese had cut off on the Kokoda Trail 
almost a month before, staggered into camp. The 
Australians, starving, exhausted, and nursing old 
untreated wounds, were in a pitiful state. After they 
had been given food, and Capt. Lester Segal, the 
medical officer, had taken care of their wounds, 
they were directed to Kalamazoo, where, Colonel 
Baetcke recalls, twenty of the thirty-five had to be 
hospitalized immediately upon arrival. Ltr, Capt 
Medendorp to Col Quinn (by hand via Maj 
Baetcke), 9 Oct 42, sub: Daily Report, in 2d Bn, 
126th Inf, Trail Opns Jnl; Interv with Col Baetcke, 
1 7 Nov 50. 



THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 



under Captain Schultz, leading, and Com- 
pany F, under Lt. Erwin Nummer, imme- 
diately behind. 

After leaving a forty-two-man detach- 
ment at Laruni to take care of the dropping 
ground, Medendorp pushed on to Jaure 
and reached it on 20 October, four days 
after Downer and Chandler got there. The 
next day, on orders of New Guinea Force, 
he sent a fifty-man detachment of the Can- 
non Company northeastward into the 
Kumusi River Valley. These men were to 
be joined immediately by the rest of the 
troops of the Antitank and Cannon Com- 
panies, in order to prevent a possible Jap- 
anese attack on Jaure from the Wairopi 
area. 

The march was much more difficult for 
the 2d Battalion than for the troops with 
Boice and Medendorp because, while it had 
rained spasmodically during the first two 
weeks of October, the heaviest rains fell just 
as the battalion began leaving Kalikadobu. 
Beginning 15 October, a steady downpour 
gave the men no respite through five days 
and five nights. Even after the elements 
abated a little, heavy rains during the after- 
noon and at night left the troops drenched 
and miserable. 

The Owen Stanley divide at Mount Su- 
wemalla (or, as the troops called it, "Ghost 
Mountain" ) , was a dank, eerie place a few 
days out of Laruni. It rose 2,000 feet higher 
than the Gap, and the terrain was, without 
qualification, rougher and more precipitous 
than that over which the Australians and 
Japanese were struggling further to the 
northwest. Captain Schultz reported that 
the trail was so narrow that "even a jack 
rabbit couldn't leave it." The troops had to 
march in single file, and there was usually 
no place on either side of the trail for a 
bivouac. In the jungle the men stumbled 



over vines and roots with every step as they 
made their way through the muck and 
slime. The ever-present mud was sometimes 
so deep that the men sank into it up to their 
knees and had to have help in extricating 
themselves. The swollen mountain streams 
through which the men had to wade had 
currents of up to twenty miles per hour — 
sufficient to knock a man down during some 
of the crossings. 

To follow the stream beds gave no relief. 
Not only were they cluttered with immense 
boulders but the streams became roaring 
torrents at a moment's notice, and the men 
had no choice but to take to the trail again. 

Immense ridges, or "razorbacks," fol- 
lowed each other in succession like the teeth 
of a saw. As a rule, the only way the troops 
could get up these ridges, which were 
steeper than along the Kokoda Trail, was 
either on hands and knees, or by cutting 
steps into them with ax and machete. To 
rest, the men simply leaned forward, hold- 
ing on to vines and roots in order to keep 
themselves from slipping down the moun- 
tainside. 

Plunging down the face of one such ridge, 
the troops would find themselves faced with 
the towering slope of another only a stone's 
throw away. Four or five ridges — only a few 
miles as the crow flies — meant a day's 
march. The same troops that, in one in- 
stance, stumbled, slipped, or fell more than 
2,000 feet in forty minutes on a downward 
slope took almost eight hours, most of it on 
hands and knees, to cover the last 2,000 
feet of the 9,000-foot divide. 

Profiting from the experience of Boice 
and Medendorp, the battalion had stripped 
for the march. Gas masks, helmets, mess 
kits, and heavy weapons had been left be- 
hind, and the ammunition load had been 
cut down. But so rough was the trail and so 



114 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



arduous the march that even the lightened 
packs proved too heavy. Piece by piece, the 
men discarded toilet articles, raincoats, 
shelter-halves, mosquito nets, and even 
blankets. As a result the troops, who were 
constantly at the mercy of chiggers, mites, 
mosquitoes, and leeches, spent their nights 
being cold as well as wet. 30 

The men had been poorly fed. They were, 
for the most part, on the Australian ration — 
hardtack, bully beef, and tea, supplemented 
by a little rice. Because the unceasing wet 
had made it virtually impossible for them 
either to heat the ration or to boil water for 
tea, most ate the food cold and threw away 
the tea. The bully beef (corned, preserved 
beef of Australian manufacture) came in 
large, four- or five-pound tins. It was not 
only unappetizing, it often had a revolting 
fish-oil taste that caused some of the troops 
to retch when they tried eating it. Many of 
the tins had become contaminated: some 
had been contused or sprung when they 
were dropped from the air; others had been 
left out in the open without cover and had 
rusted. This contamination, together with 
the impossibility of sterilizing the few eat- 
ing utensils the troops had with them, and 
the tendency of the oversize cans of beef to 
spoil before they were completely consumed, 
had its effect. Acute diarrhea and dysentery 
gripped most of the battalion, and many of 



30 Msg, Capt Melvin Schultz to Co] Quinn, 0200, 
25 Oct 42, in 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Trail Opns Jnl; 
Interv, Col Harry Knight, CAV, with Lt Col Henry 
A. Geerds, n. d. [Circa 15 Nov 42], abstract in 
OCMH files, original in Mr. Hanson W. Baldwin's 
personal possession; Robert H. Odell, Buna, 12 Dec 
42, abstract in OCMH files; Interv with Maj" Robert 
H. Odcll, 14 Dec 50; Kahn, "The Terrible Days of 
Company E," The Saturday Evening Post, 8 Jan 44, 
pp. 43-44; Hanson W. Baldwin, "Doughboy's 
March a High Point in the War," The New York 
Times, 7 May 44. 



the men had to cut holes in the seats of their 
trousers, so completely had they lost control 
of their bowel movements. 31 

The medical officers marching at the 
rear of the column did what they could for 
those who because of exhaustion, dysentery, 
and other ailments could not keep up. It 
was a great deal, and in the opinion of one 
who made the march, many members of 
the battalion owed their lives to these doc- 
tors who picked them up and cared for them 
when they were so sick and weak that "they 
were ready to call it 'quits' and die." S2 

The 1st Sergeant of Company E, Paul R. 
Lutjens, recalls the march in these words: 

It was one green hell to Jaure. We went up 
and down continuously; the company would 
be stretched over two or three miles. We'd 
start at six every morning by cooking rice or 
trying to. Two guys would work together. If 
they could start a fire which was hard because 
the wood was wet even when you cut deep 
into the center of the log, they'd mix a little 
bully beef into a canteen cup with rice, to get 
the starchy taste out of it. Sometimes we'd 
take turns blowing on sparks trying to start a 
fire, and keep it up for two hours without 
success. I could hardly describe the country. 
It would take five or six hours to go a mile, 
edging along eliff walls, hanging on to vines, 
up and down, up and down. The men got 
weaker; guys began to lag back. . . . An 
officer stayed at the end of the line to keep 
driving the stragglers. There wasn't any way 
of evacuating to the rear. Men with sprained 
ankles hobbled along as well as they could, 
driven on by fear of being left behind. . . ." as 



" Odell, Buna, 12 Dec 42 ; Interv with Maj Odell, 
14 Dec 50; Ltr, Maj Gen C. A. Martin to Gen 
Ward, 6 Mar 51: Durdin, "The Grim Hide and 
Seek of Jungle War," The New York Times Maga- 
zine, 7 Mar 43; Kahn, "The Terrible Days of 
Company E," pp. 43-44. 

32 Ltr, Col Herbert M. Smith to General Ward, 
9 Mar 51. 

33 Kahn, "The Terrible Days of Company E," 
p. 43. 



THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 



115 



As the march continued, the suffering of 
the men increased, and Sergeant Lutjens 
wrote in his diary: ". . . Our strength is 
about gone. Most of us have dysentery. Boys 
are falling out and dropping back with 
fever. Continual downpour of rain. It's 
hard to cook our rice and tea. Bully beef 
makes us sick. We seem to climb straight 
up for hours, then down again. God, will it 
never end?" 34 

After plunging through gorges, wading 
neck-deep streams, scaling cliffs, and slog- 
ging over muddy trails, the men of Schultz's 
company reached Jaure on 25 October ex- 
hausted, their clothing in tatters and their 
shoes moldy and worn out. The march had 
been too much for Colonel Geerds. He suf- 
fered a heart attack on the trail and had to 
be evacuated to Port Moresby. Ordered 
forward from Kalikadobu, Maj. Herbert 
M. Smith, previously supply liaison officer 
for the regiment, took over as battalion 
commander. 35 

By 28 October, the other companies had 
reached Jaure and the main body of the 
battalion began leaving Jaure for Natunga 
and Bof u, points in the steep foothills of the 
range northeast of Jaure leading to the 
Buna area. Companies E and F, the first 
to arrive, had gone on ahead to prepare 
dropping grounds at Natunga and Bofu. 
Already in place to the west, where they 
were guarding the battalion's flank and 
rear, were the Antitank and Cannon Com- 
panies under Captain Medendorp. The 
Medendorp force, now known as the W or 
Wairopi Patrol, had elements operating on 



M Ibid. 

35 Odell, Buna, 12 Dec 42; Interv with Maj Odell, 
14 Dec 50; Hist Adv Det and 2d Bn, 126th Inf, 
Papuan Campaign; Kahn, "The Terrible Days of 
Company E," pp. 43-44. 



the east bank of the Kumusi in the shadow 
of Mount Lamington. With a base camp 
and dropping ground at Kovio and, two 
days away, an advance post at Barumbila, 
ten miles south of Wairopi, it was actively 
patrolling the area forward of Barumbila. 36 

Completing the Deployment 
The Discovery of the Airfields 

The 2d Battalion, 126th Infantry, with 
attached regimental and divisional troops, 
was the only American force to march over 
the Owen Stanleys since a better way had 
been found to get the troops forward. Act- 
ing on his own volition, Cecil Abel, a mis- 
sionary and long-time resident of the Abau 
district, came to Port Moresby with the 
information that there was an excellent air- 
field site near Fasari, in the upper valley of 
the Musa River. General MacNider and 
Colonel Bradley, recognizing the impor- 
tance of the information, rushed Abel to 
Kalamazoo to see General Harding. Hav- 
ing realized the difficulty of getting any 
sizable body of troops across the Owen 
Stanleys by marching, Harding welcomed 
the news. He saw in the field of which Abel 
spoke a way of getting his remaining troops 
across the mountains swiftly, and without 
dulling their physical edge. He was con- 



M Msgs, 14-29 Oct 42, in 126th Inf CT Trail 
Opns Jnl; Ltr, Col Quinn to Gen Harding, 5 Nov 
42, sub: Plan of Withdrawal from Wairopi-Bofu 
area, in 126th Inf CT, S-2, S-3 Jnl; 32d Div 
Sitreps, Nos. 5-10, 22-27 Oct 42, No. 36, 8 Nov 
42; 114th Engr Bn (C) Hist Papuan Campaign; 
Hist Adv Det and 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Papuan Cam- 
paign; 126th Inf Hist Papuan Campaign; Maj 
Medendorp, The March and Operations of the 
Antitank and Cannon Companies, 126th Inf, 4 Oct 
42-28 Nov 42. 



116 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



vinced of the feasibility of the idea when 
Abel assured him that a trail on high 
ground, suitable for marching, led from 
the site of the airfield to Pongani, forty-five 
miles away. Returning to Port Moresby the 
next day, Harding enlisted the aid of Gen- 
eral Whitehead, who was also much taken 
with the idea. Abel returned at once to 
Fasari and, with the aid of native labor 
and hand tools dropped from the air by the 
Fifth Air Force, soon had a field there 
suitable for the use of transports. Thus, 
when Colonel Sverdrup reached the upper 
Musa on 19 October, after toiling labori- 
ously over the mountainous Abau track, 
he found C-47's already using the field, 
the first plane having landed there that 
day. 37 

Within days of the completion of the 
strip, which was fittingly given the name 
Abel's Field, three other promising sites 
were found in the same general area. The 
first, suitable only for emergency landings, 
was at Embessa, a few miles north of Abel's 
Field; the second, a much better site, was 
at Kinjaki Barige, about twenty-five miles 
farther and northwest from Embessa; the 
third, also an excellent site, was at Pongani 
itself. 38 As had been the case at Abel's Field, 
little more was required to convert these 
sites into acceptable landing fields than cut- 
ting over and burning tall grass and small 
trees. By early November Colonel Sverdrup 
had finished the job, using native labor at 
Embessa and Kinjaki Barige, and members 



"Ltrs, Gen Harding to Gen Sutherland, 12 Oct 
42 and 14 Oct 42, copies in OCMH files; Interv 
with Gen Harding, 29 Jun 49: Ltr, Gen Harding 
to author, 24 Jul 51. 

38 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Blarney, No. C- 
818, 11 Oct 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Ltr, Gen 
Harding to Gen Sutherland, 12 Oct 42. 



of Company C, 1 14th Engineer Battalion, 
at Pongani. 39 

General Blarney's Proposal 

The question as to whether the Kapa 
Kapa-Jaure track would be used for fur- 
ther troop movements was not easily dis- 
missed. On 19 October, the day that he 
received word that Abel's field was ready 
for use, General Harding asked permission 
from New Guinea Force to fly in the 1st 
and 3d Battalions, 126th Infantry, to the 
field. From there the two units would march 
to Pongani. General Herring had been in 
favor of the plan, but General Blarney had 
turned it down on the ground that, except 
for Abel's word, there was no proof that a 
practicable trail to Pongani existed. On 30 
October Harding proposed that the 1st and 
3d Battalions be flown across the mountains 
to Pongani and Kinjaki Barige. This time, 
Blarney approved the plan, and at once 
asked General MacArthur's concurrence 
for the transfer by air to Pongani of the 
two battalions, and for the immediate land- 
ing of supplies for their support at Abel's 
field and Kinjaki Barige. 40 

39 Msgs, Col Sverdrup to Gen Casey, No. 930, 
19 Oct 42, n.n., 26 Oct 42, n.n., 27 Oct 42, No. 
1686, 29 Oct 42, No. RQ-902, 30 Oct 42. All in 
384, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 114th Engr Bn (C) 
Hist Papuan Campaign; 32d Div AAR, Papuan 
Campaign. For the native labor required to build 
these airfields the United States paid the following: 
1,500 lbs. of trading tobacco, 50 bolts of cloth, 
1,000 Boy Scout knives, 50 cases of canned meat, 
200 lbs. of salt, 1,000 tin-plate bowls, 1,000 spoons, 
and 1,000 packages of garden seed. Ltr, Gen Casey 
to Agent, Finance Officer, Base Sec 3, Brisbane, 
1 Oct 42, with indorsements, in 384, G-3 Files, 
GHQ SWPA. 

40 Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen MacArthur, 30 Oct 
42; Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen Sutherland, 31 Oct 
42. Copies in OCMH files. Msg, Gen Blarney to 
Gen MacArthur, No. Z-105, 31 Oct 42, in G-3 Jnl, 
GQH SWPA; Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 24 Jul 
51. 



THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 



117 



Because of events in the Solomons, Gen- 
eral MacArthur did not immediately give 
his concurrence. The situation in the South 
Pacific (where Vice Adm. William F. Hal- 
sey had succeeded Admiral Ghormley as 
Commander, South Pacific Area, on 18 
October) had become critical. After suc- 
cessfully landing troops on Guadalcanal, 
the Japanese on 23 October had launched 
a fierce attack on the airfield. The land at- 
tack was co-ordinated with a move south- 
ward from Rabaul of heavy Japanese naval 
forces, including carriers. On 26-27 Oc- 
tober the attacks, both by land and by sea, 
were repulsed with heavy losses to the en- 
emy. The situation, however, continued 
grave, for the American fleet, after losing 
one of its two carriers and suffering heavy 
damage to the other, had been forced to 
withdraw, leaving the Japanese free to con- 
tinue with the reinforcement of their 
expeditionary force on Guadalcanal.* 1 

General MacArthur had already pre- 
pared a plan for withdrawal from the north 
coast and, if necessary, from New Guinea, 
should the Japanese take Guadalcanal and 
then turn their full strength on New 
Guinea. 42 He therefore answered General 
Blarney that as long as the situation in the 
Solomons remained indecisive, and the en- 
emy had afloat large bodies of troops which 
could be easily turned against New Guinea, 
it was unsafe to concentrate as large a force 
as two regiments, less one battalion, in the 
Pongani area — at least before the line of the 
Kumusi River was secured. General Mac- 



" Miller, Guadalcanal: The First Offensive, pp. 
1 138-39,1 |l56^59]|l66-69] USSBS, The Campaigns 
of the Pacific War, pp. 1 19-23. 

42 Petersburg Plan, Redistribution of Allied 
Forces, Southwest Pacific Area, in the event of Japa- 
nese Success in the Solomon Islands, 31 Oct 42, 
abstract in OCMH files. 



Arthur added that the original plan to com- 
bine the advance along the Kokoda Trail 
with an envelopment from Jaure was still 
the safest line of action, since it could be 
followed by a movement on Buna in con- 
junction with envelopments from both 
Jaure and Pongani. 43 

General Blarney assured General Mac- 
Arthur that he had never intended to con- 
centrate the remaining units of the 126th 
Infantry at Pongani. His intention had been 
rather to consolidate the regiment (less the 
250 men in the Kumusi Valley) at Bofu. 
The troops would be flown to the Pongani 
area only because the airfields were there, 
and there was nowhere else to land them. 
Immediately upon disembarking, they 
would leave the coastal area and march in- 
land to Bofu and join the 2d Battalion. 
The march from Pongani to Bofu would be 
by a route south of, and protected by, 
Hydrographer's Range. For additional pro- 
tection, the 2/6 Independent Company, at 
Pongani, would be assigned to patrol the 
trails north of the range. The 250-man force 
in the Kumusi Valley would remain there 
to harass enemy communications and would 
come under 7th Division command when 
the Australians crossed the Kumusi River. 

Having clarified his proposal, General 
Blarney asked General MacArthur to give 
further consideration to the request that 
the remaining units of the 126th Infantry 
be flown to the north shore. Lines of with- 
drawal Blarney added, were available both 
from Pongani and Bofu and, while not easy 
to use, were believed to be no more difficult 
than those over the Kokoda Trail."* 



43 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Blarney, No. C— 
1045, 1 Nov 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 

41 Msg, Gen Blarney to Gen MacArthur, No. Z- 
108, 2 Nov 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



118 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 





CROSSING A BRANCH OF ERORO CREEK, f/^enb o/^ 32d Division make 
their way to Embogo, 5 November 1942. 



The Final Decision 

After reconsidering the matter, General 
Mac Arthur told General Blarney that he 
was very much in favor of an early attack 
and would be in complete accord with such 
a proposal if sufficient supplies could be 
provided by air in time to assure its success. 
This meant, he stipulated, that at least ten 
days' rations and appropriate amounts of 
ammunition and medical supplies would 
have to be in place behind each of the three 
columns before an advance was ordered. 
What was more, the air supply movements 



to Kokoda, Bofu, and Pongani would have 
to be completed before the movement of 
the 126th Infantry from Port Moresby be- 
gan. Since these movements would place a 
tremendous strain upon the air force, 
Blarney was told to make sure that the at- 
tack was logistically feasible before the 
troops were ordered forward. 4 '' 

That same day, 2 November, General 
Mac Arthur picked 15 November as the 
tentative date of attack. The following day, 



15 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Blarney, No. C- 
1060, 2 Nov 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. 



THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 



119 




CHOW LINE ALONG THE MUDDY TRAIL. 128th Infantrymen en route to On 
Bay from Pongani. 



New Guinea Force ordered the 32d Divi- 
sion to patrol up to, but to make no move 
beyond, the Oro Bay Bofu Wairopi line 
until so ordered. On 6 November an ad- 
vance echelon of General Headquarters 
opened at Port Moresby, and General Mac- 
Arthur arrived there the same day to direct 
the operations." 



"Msq, NGF to 32d Div, Ser 430, 3 Nov 42, in 
32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; Msg, Gen MacArthur to 
CG ALF, New Guinea, No. G-1102, 6 Nov 42, in 
G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. Msg, Gen MacArthur to 
Gen Marshall, No. C-940, CM-IN 3061, 7 Nov 42. 



Drawing the Noose Tight 

Oivi and Gorari 

Progress on the main axis of advance ac- 
celerated when Kokoda was recaptured. 
The airfield was quickly reconditioned and 
lengthened to accommodate C-47's, and 
the Fifth Air Force at once began using it 
to fly in food, guns, and ammunition in 
support of the Australian advance. Vehicles, 
bridging equipment, and other parapher- 
nalia followed. The supply nightmare that 
had beset the Australians in the Owen 



120 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Stanleys was over. What 2,000 natives and 
dropping from the air could not do in days, 
it was now possible to accomplish by plane 
in minutes. With Kokoda airfield as their 
rearward base, the Australians could ad- 
vance on the beachhead with confidence. 47 

Colonel Yazawa's troops, having come in 
from the beachhead, were well dug in when 
the 16th Brigade, advancing over the 
Abuari-Missima-Fila cutoff, attacked to- 
ward Oivi on 4 November. The Japanese 
had artillery emplaced on the heights and, 
as both Colonel Yazawa and General Horii 
hoped, enough food and ammunition for at 
least a week's stand, followed by an orderly 
withdrawal. The 3d Battalion, 144th In- 
fantry, with attached engineer troops was at 
Gorari, a few miles to the east, where it had 
been sent the day before by General Horii 
to prevent an Australian break-through on 
Colonel Yazawa's left rear. The rest of the 
144th Infantry and attached divisional and 
regimental units were in bivouac at Ilimo. 
They were resting and recovering their 
strength preparatory to crossing the Kumusi 
River. Since Colonel Kusunose had been 
evacuated to Rabaul in late October because 
of sickness and wounds, Colonel Tsukamoto, 
commander of the 1st Battalion, 144th In- 
fantry, who had led the initial attack on 
Kokoda, was temporarily in command of 
the regiment. 48 

The 16th Brigade met stiff resistance 
when it attacked toward Oivi. Reinforced 



ir NGF OI No. 40, 31 Oct 42, and No. 42, 14 
Nov. 42; Msg, Gen Sutherland to Gen MacArthur, 
No. P-48, 6 Nov 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; 
ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, 23 Sep 42-22 Jan 
43 ; AAF, Air Actn in the Papuan Campaign, p. 72. 

¥ ~ 67 th LofC Hospital Orders, 3 1 Oct 42. in ATIS 
EP 24; Nankai Shitai Opns Orders: "KO" No. 
133, 31 Oct 42, "KO" No. A-135, 3 Nov 42, "KO" 
No. 136, 3 Nov 42, in ATIS EP No. 39: No. A-136, 
3 Nov 42, in ATIS CT 4, No. 103. 



by the 3d Australian Infantry Battalion, a 
militia unit, the brigade began flanking on 
right and left. By 8 November elements 
of the 2/1 Battalion, moving around the 
Japanese south (left) flank, were in con- 
tact with the enemy southeast of Gorari. 
On 9 November the 25th Brigade joined 
the 2/1 Battalion, and the Australians 
pounced on the Japanese at Gorari. 

With the Australians in front and rear, 
Colonel Yazawa realized it was time to pull 
out. That night he evacuated Oivi unob- 
served with what was left of his force — 900 
men. With him were General Horii and 
several members of the Shitai staff, who had 
apparently been inspecting Yazawa's po- 
sition when the Australians cut between it 
and Gorari. Abandoning guns and ammu- 
nition, and indeed everything that would 
impede their flight, the Japanese took the 
only remaining route of escape left to 
them — the rugged jungle country northeast 
of Oivi. Since the mouth of the Kumusi 
was only about twenty miles north of Gona, 
Yazawa planned to follow the river bank to 
the sea and then move to Gona by way of 
the coast. 

After circling through the jungle, the 
troops of the Yazawa Force came out on the 
left bank of the Kumusi, well north of the 
Australians. Shaking off all attempts of the 
latter to overtake them, they struck off 
toward the river's mouth — their ultimate 
destination, Gona. 

Gorari was completely overrun by 1 2 No- 
vember. More than 500 Japanese were 
killed there ; guns, small arms, and ammuni- 
tion were captured; and some 200 Rabaul 
natives were liberated. The Japanese suf- 
fered heavily at Gorari, but the much larger 
body of Japanese at Ilimo, as well as a 
remnant of the Gorari force, got away. 
Japanese sick and wounded began crossing 



THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 



121 



the Kumusi on 10 November, and the main 
body crossed on the night of 12-13 No- 
vember, covered by a small rear guard which 
dug itself in at Ilimo. With the sick and 
wounded, some 1,200 men crossed the river, 
mostly on rafts. The incoming troops 
reached Giruwa several days later, hungry 
and mostly weaponless, having lost most 
of their equipment, stores, and ammuni- 
tion either before or during the crossing. 40 

The Japanese had taken heavy losses at 
Oivi and Gorari, and their forces had been 
scattered. Colonel Yazawa had held at Oivi 
almost as long as he had intended, but the 
orderly withdrawal that General Horii had 
planned for had become a rout. 

On 13 November the 25th Brigade wiped 
out the enemy rear guard which had been 
covering the crossing. A temporary bridge 
was completed at Wairopi that night. The 
next morning, while the air force dropped 
bridging equipment for a more permanent 
structure, the leading element of the brigade 
began crossing the river. 50 

The Americans Reach the Front 

By this time the movement of the Amer- 
ican forces into the concentration areas was 
almost complete. The 2d Battalion, 126th 
Infantry, which had started leaving Jaure 
on 28 October, closed into the Natunga 



*" ALF, Daily Opns Rpts No. 20+, 4 Nov 42, No. 
215, 15 Nov 42; G-3 Opns Rpt No. 225, 17-18 
Nov 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA. Nankai Shitai 
Opns Orders "KO" No. 140, Ilimo, 9 Nov 42, in 
ATIS EP No. 39; Tomita Butai Orders, n.n., 15 
Nov 42, in ATIS EP No. 29; Msg, Col Tomita 
to CofS, Army Hq, Rabaul, 28 Nov 42, in ATIS 
CT 26, No. 314; 17th Army Opns I, 129; 18th 
Army Opns I, 15. 

50 ALF, Opns Rpts, No. 215, 15 Nov 42, No. 216, 
16 Nov 42, No. 217, 17 Nov 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, 23 Sep 
42-22 Jan 43. 



area on 2 November, after a comparatively 
easy march from Jaure. After spending 
more than a week in the area drawing ra- 
tions, helmets, boots, and other equipment 
at the Natunga dropping ground, the bat- 
talion pushed on to Gora and Bofu, reach- 
ing the latter point on 1 2 November. 

Captain Boice had been unable to find 
even one good dropping ground between 
Jaure and Natunga. As a result, most of 
the rations dropped from the air between 
those two points had been lost, and the 
troops (who were reduced to eating bananas 
and papayas or whatever else they could 
find ) had gone hungry. Colonel Quinn had 
made it his business to fly with the air- 
dropping planes in the hope of working out 
dropping techniques which would get food 
to his troops. He was killed on 5 November 
while in a plane dropping supplies to the 
troops at Natunga. A cargo parachute that 
caught in the plane's tail assembly sent the 
plane out of control, and everyone aboard 
died in the crash. 

Colonel Quinn's loss was a blow to the di- 
vision. General Harding, in a letter to Gen- 
eral Eichelberger, described Quinn as "my 
best regimental commander, and that by a 
wide margin." Harding chose Lt. Col. 
Clarence M. Tomlinson, commanding offi- 
cer of the 3d Battalion, to command the 
regiment, and Tomlinson was promoted to 
colonel in short order. Maj. George Bond 
took command of the 3d Battalion. M 

The air movement from Port Moresby 
of regimental headquarters and of the 1st 
and 3d Battalions began on 8 November, 
the 1st Battalion going first. Because heavy 



M Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen Eichelberger, 5 Nov 
42, copy in OCMH files. Ltr, Maj Gen Albert W. 
Waldron to Gen Ward, 28 Mar 51 ; 126th Inf CT 
AAR, Papuan Campaign; 32d Div AAR, Papuan 
Campaign. 



122 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




TAKING A BREAK. Troops from the 3d Battalion and regimental headquarters of the 126th 
Infantry rest along a trail between Boreo and Dobodura. 



rains had made the airfield at Pongani tem- 
porarily unsafe for the landing of troops, 
590 men of the 1st Battalion — Battalion 
Headquarters, Company A, Company B, 
two platoons of Company C, and a squad of 
Company D — under the battalion com- 
mander, Lt. Col. Edmund J. Carrier, were 
flown instead to Abel's Field. Upon arrival 
there, they began marching to Pongani." 2 

Work on a new all-weather airfield had 
been proceeding at Pongani. The field, on a 
well-drained site and covered with gravel 

52 1st Bn, 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 293, 294, 8 Nov 42, 
Sers 297, 298, 299, 9 Nov 42, Sers 330, 331, 19 
Nov 42. 



from a nearby pit, was finished on 9 Novem- 
ber, the day after the movement to Abel's 
Field began. The air force, previously under 
the impression that only Abel's Field was 
open, tested the new field, found it accept- 
able, and at once began flying in the rest 
of the 1 26th Infantry to Pongani. 5S 

Within hours of Colonel Carrier's arrival 
at Abel's Field, the rest of the 1st Battalion, 
218 men — Company D, less one squad, and 
Company C, less two platoons — under Maj. 

53 Msgs, Gen MacNider to Gen Harding, No. 476, 
5 Nov 42, No. 535, 8 Nov 42, No. 575, 9 Nov 42, in 
32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen 
MacNider, 8 Nov 42, copy in OCMH files. 



THE ADVANCE ON THE BEACHHEAD 



123 




TAKING A BREAK. Li. Col. Alexander J. MacNab (right ), Executive Officer of the 128th 
Infantry, pauses with two of his men for a cigarette on the trail. 



Richard D, Boerem, executive officer of the 
battalion, had landed at Pongani and at 
once began marching to Natunga. Colonel 
Tomlinson and regimental headquarters 
reached Pongani by air on 1 1 November, 
as did the 3d Battalion, all elements moving 
out to Natunga immediately on arrival. By 
14 November Major Boerem's detachment 
was approaching Natunga, and regimental 
headquarters and the 3d Battalion were 
moving forward rapidly behind it. Almost 
all of Major Smith's 2d Battalion was at 
Bofu, and the remaining troops of the 1st 
Battalion, under Colonel Carrier, after hav- 
ing struggled through swampy terrain 



since 9 November, were approaching 
Pongani. 54 

On the coastal flank, General MacNider' s 
command, the 128th Infantry and the 2/6 
Independent Company, known by this time 
as Warren Task Force, was consolidating 
in the Oro Bay-Embogo-Embi area. Its 



r " Msg, Gen MacNider to Gen Harding, No. 575, 
9 Nov 42 ; Msg, Gen Harding to Gen MacNider, 
No. 576, 10 Nov 42 ; Msg, Gen Harding to Lt. Col. 
Clarence M. Tomlinson, Ser. 654, 15 Nov 42, in 
32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 126th Inf S-2, S-3 Jnl, 
Papuan Campaign : Jnl, Maj Boerem's Det, Part 
1st Bn s 126th Inf, 10, 13, 14 Nov 42; 126th Inf CT 
AAR, Papuan Campaign ; 32d Div AAR, Papuan 
Campaign. 



124 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



patrols were operating inland as far as Borio 
and up the coast as far as Cape Sudest. 
The last two companies of the 1st Battalion, 
1 28th Infantry, had been flown to Wanigela 
from Port Moresby on 8 November and 
brought forward immediately by boat. Ex- 
cept for Company A, which had been left 
at Pongani to guard the supply dumps there, 
the battalion was now at Embogo under Lt. 
Col. Robert C. McCoy. The 2d Battalion, 
under Lt. Col. Herbert A. Smith, was at 
Eroro Mission, and the 3d Battalion, under 
Colonel Miller, was near Embi. The Aus- 
tralian Independent Company, under Maj. 
Harry G. Harcourt, was at Pongani prepar- 
ing to move forward after its extensive pa- 
trols of the trails north of Hydrographer's 
Range and of the Natunga-Pongani track. 
There was a forward dump at Embogo, 
and Colonel McKenny was planning an 
even more advanced dump at Hariko. Gen- 
eral MacNider, in turn, planned to move 
his headquarters to Hariko as soon as there 
were boats available for the movement/ 



'" Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen MacNider, 28 Oct 
42, copy in OCMH files; Ltr, Lt Col Chester C. 
Beaver, 128th Inf, to Gen Harding, 6 Nov 42; Ltr, 
NGF to 32d Div, 9 Nov 42. Last two in 32d Div 
G-2, G-3 Jnl; 32d Div Sitreps, No. 45, 13 Nov 42, 
No. 47, 16 Nov 42, 128th Inf AAR, Papuan Cam- 
paign; 32d Div AAR, Papuan Campaign. 



Artillery was to be Australian. A two-gun 
section of 3.7-inch mountain artillery was 
at Embogu, and four 25-pounders had 
reached Oro Bay. The crews were under 
3 2d Division command. Reinforcements, 
consisting of the 127th Regimental Com- 
bat Team, less artillery, had at last begun 
loading at Brisbane for Port Moresby on 1 4 
November. 

The Americans were now finally in posi- 
tion for the forthcoming attack and the 
Australians soon would be. Up to this time 
the campaign had cost the latter 2,127 
casualties, 57 but the enemy was back at the 
beachhead on which he had landed in July. 
His back was to the sea, and the noose 
around him was being drawn tight. 

'"Msg, NGF to 32d Div, No. 609, 11 Nov 42, in 
32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; Msg, Gen MacNider to Gen 
Harding, 15 Nov 42, in OCMH files. Ltr, Gen 
Waldron to Gen Ward, 5 Mar 51; 32d Div Hist 
of Arty, Papuan Campaign. The 3.7-inch pack 
howitzer was a standard British piece, much used 
by the Australians. It was about 94-mm. ; the pro- 
jectile weighed 19'/t> pounds; and the maximum 
range was 6,000 yards. 

"' Australian casualty figures for the period 22 
July 1942 to 16 November 1942, for ground troops 
only, are as follows: 709 killed in action; 132 died 
of wounds and other causes: 1,286 wounded in 
action. Ltr, Balfour to author, 15 Feb 50; Sig, Aus- 
tralian Army Headquarters, Melbourne to Austral- 
ian Military Mission, Washington, No. MW--179, 
22 June 50, copy in OCMH files. 



CHAPTER VIII 



The Allies Close In 



Just as the Allies prepared to close on 
Buna the turning point came in the strug- 
gle for the southern Solomons. In the naval 
battle of Guadalcanal (12-15 November), 
Admiral Halsey's forces virtually wiped out 
an eleven-ship enemy convoy, carrying al- 
most all the reserves the Japanese had avail- 
able for action in the South and Southwest 
Pacific. After this catastrophic setback, the 
Japanese gave up trying to reinforce their 
troops on Guadalcanal, contenting them- 
selves with desperate attempts to keep them 
supplied so as to prolong resistance as long 
as possible. With the island sealed off, Ma- 
rine Corps troops, reinforced by Army 
troops (who were arriving on the scene in 
increasing numbers to replace the marines) , 
could proceed uninterruptedly with the task 
of destroying the large Japanese garrison 
left on the island. 1 The battle for Guadal- 
canal had entered an advanced phase just 
as that for Buna began. 

Mounting the Attack 
The Scene of Operations 

The scene of operations was the Buna- 
Gona coastal plain, commonly referred to 



1 Hist Rec Army Section, Imperial General Head- 
quarters, pp. 65, 67 ; Southeast Area Naval Opns, I, 
45-50; Dth Army Opns, I, 114-115: USSBS, The 
Campaigns of the Pacific War, pp. 125 -139; Miller, 
Guadalc anal: 
|230-31.| 



The First Offensive, pp. 177-89, 



as the Buna area. (Map IV) Lying between 
the sea and the foothills of the Owen Stan- 
ley Range, the region is quite flat. In the 
Buna strips area the elevation is about three 
feet. At Soputa, some six and one-half miles 
inland, it is only a few feet higher. The ter- 
rain consisted mainly of jungle and swamp. 
The jungles, mostly inland, were a tangle 
of trees, vines, and creepers, and dense, al- 
most impenetrable undergrowth. The 
swamps, filled with a frenzied growth of 
mangrove, nipa, and sago trees, were often 
shoulder-deep, and sometimes over a man's 
head. 

Scattered through the region were groves 
of coconut palms, areas of bush and scrub, 
and patches of kunai grass. The coconut 
palms, some of them 125 feet high, were to 
be found principally along the coast at such 
points as Cape Endaiadere, Buna Mission, 
Giruwa, Cape Killerton, and Gona, but 
there were also a few groves inland, sur- 
rounded in the main by swamp. Generally 
the bush and scrub were heavily overgrown, 
and the undergrowth was almost as impene- 
trable as that in the jungle. The kunai 
grass, shoulder-high, and with knife-sharp 
edges, grew in thick clumps, varying in size 
from small patches that covered a few 
square feet to the Dobodura grass plains 
that extended over an area several miles 
square. 

The rainy season had begun and the 
Girua River, which divided the area in two, 



126 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



was in flood. After losing itself in a broad 
swampy delta stretching from Sanananda 
Point to Buna Village, the Girua emptied 
into the sea through several channels. One 
of these, Entrance Creek, opened into the 
lagoon between Buna Village and Buna 
Mission. Between Entrance Creek and 
Simemi Creek to the east was an immense 
swamp. This swamp, formed when the over- 
flow from the river had backed up into the 
low-lying ground just south of Buna Mis- 
sion, reached as far inland as Simemi and 
Ango. It was believed to be impassable, and 
its effect was to cut the area east of the river 
in two, making the transfer of troops from 
one part to the other a slow and difficult 
process. 2 

Because of the swamp, there were only 
three good routes of approach to the Jap- 
anese positions east of the river. The first 
led from Soputa and Ango Corner along the 
western edge of the swamp to a track junc- 
tion three quarters of a mile south of Buna 
Mission which was to become known to the 
troops as the Triangle. From this junction, 
one trail led to Buna Village and the other 
to Buna Mission. A second route of ap- 
proach was from Dobodura and Simemi 
along the eastern end of the swamp and 
along the northern edge of the Old Strip to 
Buna Mission. A third approach lay along 
the coastal track from Cape Sudest to Cape 
Endaiadere, where the trail back-tracked 
diagonally through Duropa Plantation to 
the New Strip, and ran thence to Buna 
Mission. 



2 Actually there was no mission at Buna, and 
what was known as Buna Mission was really Buna 
Government Station. Likewise, what the Board of 
Geographic Names officially calls the Senimi River 
was known as Simemi Creek. Since nearly all rec- 
ords of the campaign refer to "Buna Mission" and 
"Simemi Creek," these names will be used through- 
out this volume. 



The situation was the same on the west- 
ern side of the river. There were only two 
good approaches to the Japanese beachhead 
positions in that area, and both of them lay 
through swamp. One was the trail that ran 
to Gona via Amboga Crossing and Jum- 
bora; the other was the main trail to San- 
ananda via Popondetta and Soputa. In ad- 
dition, several branch trails forked from the 
Soputa-Sanananda track to Cape Killer- 
ton, where they joined the coastal trail to 
Sanananda, Sanananda Point, and Giruwa. 

In the hot and muggy climate of the 
Buna-Gona area the humidity averages 85 
percent, and the daily temperature, 96° F. 
The area was literally a pesthole. Malaria, 
dengue fever, scrub typhus, bacillary and 
amoebic dysentery were endemic there, as 
were the lesser ills- — jungle rot, dhobie itch, 
athlete's foot, and ringworm. 3 Unless the 
campaign came to a quick end, disease 
would inevitably take heavy toll of the 
troops. 

The Plan of Attack 

New Guinea Force published the over-all 
plan of attack on 14 November. The orders 
provided that the 7th Australian Division 
and the 3 2d U. S. Division would destroy 
the enemy in the area bounded by the 
Kumusi River, Cape Sudest, and Holnicote 
Bay. The boundary between the two divi- 
sions was to be a line running from the 
mouth of the Girua River to Hihonda, 
thence southwesterly along a stream half- 
way between Inonda and Popondetta. The 
7th Division was to operate on the left of 
the boundary, the 32d Division on the right. 
The 21st Brigade, now to serve its second 



' Rpt, CG Buna Forces on the Buna Campaign, 
pp. 2-8, with app. Map B, Buna Campaign Area; 
WD, Survey of Northeast New Guinea and Papua. 



THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 



127 




tour of duty in the campaign, was to be 
flown in from Port Moresby and go into 
7th Division reserve near Wairopi. (Map 7) 
The troops were to begin moving forward 
on 16 November, the 3 2d Division against 
Buna, and the 7th Division against Gona 
and Sanananda. Units on either side of the 
interdivisional boundary were to take par- 
ticular care not to uncover their inward 
flank. Each division was to be prepared to 



strike across the boundary against the en- 
emy's flank or rear should the opportunity 
offer. The 32d Division, in addition to car- 
rying on its combat role, was to establish a 
landing strip at Dobodura, secure and hold 
the crossing of the Girua River near Soputa, 
and provide for the security of the right 
flank from enemy sea-borne attack.* 



4 NGF QJ No. 42, 14 Nov 42. 



128 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



The LILLIPUT Plan 

Hopeful of an early victory, New Guinea 
Force issued a plan for defense of the Buna 
area the next day. Under Lilliput (as the 
plan was called) the 32d Division would 
become responsible for Buna's defense as 
soon as the area was cleared of the enemy. 
To assist the division in the discharge of 
that responsibility, Australian artillery, anti- 
aircraft, and air-warning units were to be 
sent forward to Buna at the earliest possible 
moment and come under its command. The 
first echelon of Lilliput, including several 
K. P. M. ships, had already been called for- 
ward and was due to arrive at Milne Bay 
from Australia on 18 November." 

General Blarney had asked General Mac- 
Arthur for a few destroyers to protect the 
Lilliput ships as they passed through the 
area beyond Cape Nelson and while they 
were unloading at Buna, but Vice Admiral 
x^rthur S. Carpender, who had succeeded 
Admiral Leary as Commander of the Allied 
Naval Forces in September, had voiced 
strong objections to sending destroyers into 
the "treacherous" waters off Buna, In a 
letter to General MacArthur, he made his 
position clear. The entire area between 
Cape Nelson and Buna, he wrote, was so 
filled with reefs that there was virtually no 
"sea room" in which destroyers could ma- 
neuver. The Japanese, using the northern 
approach route from Gasmata, a small is- 
land off the south coast of New Britain, did 
not have this difficulty, for there were deep- 
water areas suitable for the maneuvering 



5 NGF OI No. 43, 15 Nov 42. Msg, Gen Chamber- 
lin to Gen Sutherland, No. C-1237, 14 Nov 42; 
Msg, P 146, Gen Sutherland to Gen Chamberlin, 
14 Nov 42. Both in 384, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 



of cruisers and destroyers all the way be- 
tween it and Buna. To put a "minor surface 
force" in the Buna area would serve no use- 
ful purpose in the face of the much heavier 
forces the enemy could easily send in from 
Rabaul. General Blarney could have one or 
two shallow-draft antisubmarine vessels for 
the escort of the Lilliput ships, but no 
destroyers; the latter were not to be used 
for escort duty north of Milne Bay. 6 

Since Admiral Carpender had objections 
also to sending submarines into the Buna 
area, 7 it became clear that the only help the 
Allied forces closing in on Buna could ex- 
pect from the fleet was a few small patrol 
boats. The air force, in addition to bearing 
its close support and supply responsibilities, 
would have to carry almost the entire bur- 
den of protecting Allied supply movements 
northward of Milne Bay, and of beating 
back enemy attempts to reinforce the 
beachhead. 

The Forces Move Up 

On 1 5 November General Harding issued 
the divisional plan of attack. In Field Order 
Number One of that date, he ordered one 
battalion of the 128th Infantry to march 
along the coast via Embogo and Cape Su- 
dest to take Cape Endaiadere, A second 
battalion was to move on the Buna airfield 
via Simemi. The remaining battalion, which 
would be in division reserve, was to proceed 
to the Dobodura grass plains area and pre- 



s Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen MacArthur, 7 Nov 42 : 
Ltr, Vice Admiral Arthur S. Carpender, Comdr 
ANF, to Gen MacArthur, A 16-3, Ser 00521, 10 
Nov 42, sub: Opns for Capture of Buna. Both in 
G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA, 

7 R&R, Gen Chamberlin to Gen Sutherland, 10 
Nov 42, in 385, G-3 Files, GHQ SWPA. 



THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 



129 




SIMEMI VILLAGE, along the route of Company M, 128th Infantry, on its way to an 
advanced position. 



pare a landing strip for transports. Each 
battalion was to have an engineer platoon 
and a body of native carriers attached. H 
Hour for Warren Force was set at 0600, 16 
November. The 126th Infantry (less the 
elements of the 1st Battalion arriving at 
Pongani) would close on Inonda. It would 
move from Inonda on Buna by a route to 
be specified later. s 

While Colonel Tomlinson's force would 
have to be supplied by airdropping until 



\32d Div FO No. 1, 15 Nov 42, copy in DRB 
HRS, AGO. 



the field at Dobodura was in operation, 
Warren Task Force was, as far as possible, 
to be supplied by sea. There was to be a 
deepwater harbor at Oro Bay, Col. John J. 
Carew, the Divisional Engineer, having in- 
vestigated the harbor area and reported 
favorably on the project. '"' Its completion, 
and the completion ultimately of an access 
road from it to Dobodura, would make it 



3 Ltr, Col John J. Carew, CO 114th Engr Bn, to 
Gen Harding, 14 Nov 42, sub: Preliminary Recon- 
naissance Rpt, Oro Bay Area, Ser 647, in 32d Div 
G-2, G-3 Jnl; Memo, Gen MacNider for Gen 
Harding, 15 Nov 42, in OCMH files. 



130 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




possible for large ships to anchor there and 
would also make possible the development 
of Dobodura into a major air base, not only 
for fighters and transports, but also for all 
types of bombers. 

General MacNider's troops were given 
an extra ration of rice before they left their 
lines of departure on 16 November. Colo- 
nel Tomlinson's headquarters, the 3d Bat- 
talion, 126th Infantry, and Major Boerem's 
detachment (which according to plan was 
to be reunited with the rest of the 1st Bat- 
talion at Dobodura as soon as possible) 
pushed off from Natunga to Bofu. The 2d 



Battalion, already at Bofu, began moving 
on Inonda. 10 

Early on 16 November, just as the Ameri- 
cans marched out to the attack, the Aus- 
tralians completed the crossing of the Ku- 
musi River. Leaving an engineer detach- 
ment to clear an airstrip on the east bank 
of the river, the 25 th Brigade began march- 
ing on Gona, and the 16th Brigade, on 



19 Gen Harding's Diary, 15 Nov 42; Msg, Col 
Tomlinson to Gen Harding, Ser 715, Ser 754, 16 
Nov 42, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 32d Div Sitrcp 
No. 47, 16 Nov 42: 32d Div Rpt of Actn, Papuan 
Campaign. 



THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 



131 




GENERAL MacNIDER (center, facing forward) mapping plans to take Buna. 



Sanananda. Advance Headquarters, 7th 
Division, crossed the river on the 16 th just 
behind the 16th Brigade, and Captain 
Medendorp, whose Wairopi Patrol had 
had a light brush with the enemy at Asisi 
a few miles south of W airopi a week before, 
reported to General Vasey the same day. 11 
The attack was on, but the condition of 
many of the attacking troops left a great 
deal to be desired. The 16th and 25th Bri- 



"ALF Opns Rpt No. 215, 15 Nov 42; No. 216, 
16 Nov 42; No. 217, 17 Nov 42; No. 218, 18 Nov 
42. All in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Comdr ALF, 
Rpt on New Guinea Opns, 23 Sep 42-22 Jan 43. 



gades, which had chased the enemy nearly 
all the way across the Owen Stanleys, had 
been in continuous action under the most 
arduous conditions for almost two months. 
They had lost many men, and those that 
remained were very tired. The 21st Brigade, 
General Vasey's reserve, though rested and 
regrouped, was far below strength. 12 Only 
the untried Americans, numbering at the 



12 Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen MacArthur, 27 Oct 
4-2, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Comdr ALF Rpt on 
New Guinea Opns, 23 Sep 42-22 Jan 43; NGF, 
Notes on Opns in New Guinea, Ser 3. 



132 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



time just under 7,000 men, 13 could be con- 
sidered fresh troops, and many of them be- 
cause of sickness and exhausting marches 
were far from their physical peak. 

The 32d Division 
on the Eve of Combat 

Training and Equipment 

Troops in the opening engagements of 
every war are often found to be ill prepared 
to wage the kind of war they actually have 
to fight. This was the case with the 3 2d 
Division when its leading elements marched 
out to meet the enemy in mid-November 
1942. Not only were the troops inade- 
quately trained, equipped, and supported 
for the task in hand, but many of the diffi- 
culties they were to meet at Buna had been 
neither foreseen nor provided for. 

The division, whose insignia is a Red 
Arrow with a crosspiece on the shaft, was a 
former Michigan and Wisconsin National 
Guard unit. It had a record of outstanding 
service in World War I, having fought with 
great distinction on the Aisne-Marne, the 
Oise— Aisne, and in the Meuse— Argonne 
drive. The division was inducted into the 
federal service on 15 October 1940 as a 
square division. The following April some 
8,000 Michigan and Wisconsin selectees 
were added to its strength. After partici- 
pating in the Louisiana maneuvers, the 
division was triangularized into the 126th, 
127th, and 128th Infantry Regiments. The 
120th, 121st, 126th, and 129th Field Artil- 



" As of 14 November, the 126th and 128th Com- 
bat Teams, and the forward echelon of division 
headquarters totaled 6,951 men, with more engi- 
neer and medical troops still to come. Ltr, GG 
32d Div to GOC NGF, 14 Nov 42, sub: Strength 
Rpt, in OCMH files; Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 
26 Feb 50. 



lery Battalions were assigned as divisional 
artillery. The 121st Field Artillery Battalion 
was equipped with 155 -mm. howitzers. The 
other battalions, which had trained with 
World War I 75's, received 105's just before 
embarkation. 14 

The 32d Division had expected to fight 
in the European theater and, in late Decem- 
ber 1941, had actually been earmarked for 
operations there. General Harding joined 
it in Louisiana in early February 1942. In 
late February the division was sent to Fort 
Devens, Massachusetts, and instructed to 
prepare for immediate movement to North- 
ern Ireland. Ordered at the last moment to 
the Pacific, the division took on more than 
3,000 replacements at San Francisco and 
reached Adelaide, Australia, on 14 May. 
Training had scarcely got under way when 
the division was again ordered to move — 
this time to Brisbane. The move was com- 
pleted in mid- August, and training had just 
got into its stride again at Camp Cable, the 
division's camp near Brisbane, when the first 
troops started moving to New Guinea. 

These moves served the division ill. Not 
only was it difficult to harden the men be- 
cause they were so much in transit, but the 
weeks spent in moving, in making each suc- 
cessive camp livable, and in providing it 
with bayonet courses, rifle range, infiltration 
courses, and similar installations before in- 
fantry training could begin cut heavily into 
the division's training time. This was a 
serious matter since the division had arrived 
in Australia only partially trained, and many 



" Order of Battle of the United States Land 
Forces in the World War, American Expeditionary 
Forces, (Washington, 1931), pp. 176-91; Annual 
Rpt, National Guard Bureau, 1941, Table VII, 
p. 29; AGF, Fact Sheet on 32d Inf Div, 1 Mar 47, 
in DRB HRS, AGO: Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 
26 Feb 50. 



THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 



133 



of its officers, new to the division, had not 
yet had time to know their men. 

There was another difficulty. Like the 
41st Division, the 32 d was part of the gar- 
rison of Australia. The main emphasis in its 
training had been on the defense of Aus- 
tralia, a type of training from which the 
troops had little new to learn for it repeated 
the training that they had received at home. 
What they really needed — training in jungle 
combat — they got very little of. 15 

General Richardson, Commanding Gen- 
eral, VII Corps, then on a mission in the 
Pacific for General Marshall, inspected the 
troops in early July and reported that as far 
as their training was concerned they were 
"still in the elementary stages" and would 
not be ready for combat "by some few 
months." General Eichelberger reached 
Australia in early September and found the 
division still not ready for combat. He rated 
its state of training as "barely satisfactory" 
and told General MacArthur it needed fur- 
ther hardening as well as a vast amount of 
training, especially in jungle warfare. 10 

As quickly as he could, Eichelberger in- 
stituted a stepped-up training and harden- 
ing program, but the 126th and 128th In- 
fantry Regiments had already moved out to 
New Guinea before the new program could 



1B Durdin, "The Grim Hide and Seek of Jungle 
War," The New York Times Magazine, 7 Mar 43; 
Interv with Gen Harding, 9 Dec 47; Interv with 
Gen Eichelberger, 3 Feb 50; Ltrs, Gen Harding to 
author, 26 Feb 50; 24 Jul 51 ; Ltr, Gen Waldron to 
Gen Ward, 5 Mar 51; Gen Eichelberger, Our 
Jungle Road to Tokyo, (New York, 1950), pp. 7, 
11. Mr. Durdin was on the ground throughout the 
campaign, having taken over as New York Times 
correspondent upon Byron Darnton's death- 

18 Memo, Gen Richardson for Gen Marshall, 9 Jul 
42, Report No. 5, in SWPA-MacArthur File, OPD 
Exec File: Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 6 Feb 50; 
Gen Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, pp. 
11, 12. 



go into effect. Thus when the two regiments 
entered combat they were not in top physi- 
cal condition, had received very little train- 
ing in scouting, night patrolling, or jungle 
warfare, and had been fired over in their 
training either very briefly or not at all. 17 

Looking back at it all, General Harding 
had this to say of the training of the division 
before it entered combat: 

I have no quarrel with the general thesis 
that the 32d was by no means adequately 
trained for combat — particularly jungle com- 
bat. A Third Army (Krueger) training in- 
spection team gave it a thoroughgoing in- 
spection about a month before I joined it and 
found it deficient on many counts. I got a 
copy of this report from Krueger and it was 
plenty bad. . . . 

On the other hand I found the division well 
disciplined, well behaved, and well grounded 
in certain elements of training. . . . My esti- 
mate of training when I took over is that it 
was about on a par with other National Guard 
divisions at that time. 

Unfortunately we had no opportunity to 
work through a systematic program for cor- 
recting deficiencies. From February when I 
took over until November when we went into 
battle we were always getting ready to move, 
on the move, or getting settled after a move. 
No sooner would we get a systematic training 
program started than orders for a move came 
along to interrupt it. As you know, you just 
can't formulate and get set up for a realistic 
training program in a couple of days. As a 
matter of fact, realistic training for modern 
war requires an enormously elaborate instal- 
lation of training aids, courses, etc. without 
which really good training can't be complete. 
Such installations were out of the question 



" Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 24 
Dec 42, copy in OCMH files; Interv with Gen 
Eichelberger, 6 Feb 50; Ltr, Col Harry Knight, 
Cav, to CG AGF, 4 Jan 43, sub: Report of Col 
Harry Knight in the Southwest Pacific, with incl. 
U.S. Troops in the Battle of Buna ; Ltr, Col Herbert 
B. Laux, Inf, to CG AGF, 20 Feb 43, with incl. 
Both ltrs in 381, OPD SWPA File, Sec 4. Ltrs, Gen 
Harding to author, 26 Feb 50 and 26 Jul 51. 



134 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



for us, although we managed to set up a few 
simplified modifications of the real thing 
which would have served fairly wrll, had we 
ever had time to run more than a fraction of 
the command through them." 

Although the troops had much of the 
standard equipment of the day, not all of it 
was to prove suitable for the area in which 
they were to fight. Much of their radio 
equipment, for instance, had already failed 
to function, and they did not have the car- 
bine which would have been an ideal 
weapon in the tangled, overgrown beach- 
head area. Although the carbine was avail- 
able elsewhere, it was to be months before 
the first carbines reached the Southwest 
Pacific Area and were distributed among 
the troops. 10 

The troops had none of the specialized 
clothing and equipment which later became 
routine for jungle operations. Their cloth- 
ing — dyed to aid concealment in the jun- 
gle — was already causing them great dis- 
comfort. Not only did the dye run, but its 
residuum stopped up the cloth and made it 
nonporous. The garments, as a result, be- 
came unbearable in the extreme tropical 
heat and caused hideous jungle ulcers to ap- 
pear on the bodies of nearly all the troops 
wearing them. 20 

Though they were about to enter a jungle 
area overgrown with vines and creepers and 
teeming with noxious insects, the men were 
critically short of machetes, and had no in- 

18 Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 26 Feb 50. 

10 Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 8 
Dec 42 ; Rpt, CG Buna Forces on the Buna Cam- 
paign, p. 84; Ltr, Maj David B. Parker, CE, to CG 
USASOS, 2 Dec 42, sub: Notes on Operations 
near Buna, New Guinea, 14-23 Nov 42, in AFPAC 
Engr File; Durdin, "The Grim Hide and Seek of 
Jungle Warfare," 7 Mar 43. 

Ltr, Col John E. Grose to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 
51, with incl; Durdin, "The Grim Hide and Seek of 
Jungle War," 7 Mar 43; Eichelberger, Our Jungle 
Road to Tokyo, p. 39. 



sect repel] ants. Nor had anyone thought to 
issue them small waterproof boxes or 
pouches for the protection of their personal 
effects and medical supplies from the ex- 
treme heat and wet. Cigarettes and matches 
became sodden and unusable, and quinine 
pills, vitamin pills, and salt tablets, — then 
usually issued in bulk a few days' supply at 
a time — began to disintegrate almost as soon 
as the men put them in their pockets or 
packs, and the same thing sometimes hap- 
pened to the water chlorination tablets. 21 

Various expedients had been adopted to 
lighten the weight each man would have to 
carry in the jungle. The marching troops 
were equipped as far as possible with 
Thompson submachine guns, and the heav- 
ier weapons, including most of the 81-mm. 
mortars, were put aside to be sent forward 
later by boat. Medical and communica- 
tions equipment were stripped to the bare 
essentials, and field ranges and accom- 
panying heavy mess equipment were left 
behind at Port Moresby. 22 

The medical units were using gas stoves, 
kerosene burners, and even canned heat to 
sterilize their instruments and provide the 
casualties with hot food and drink, but the 
front-line troops had none of these things. 
Without their normal mess equipment, they 
no choice but to use tin containers of all 
kinds to heat up their rations, prepare their 
coffee (when they had coffee), and wash 
their mess gear. Since it rained almost con- 
tinually and there was very little dry fuel 
available, it was usually impossible to heat 



Ltr, Col Carl Hanna, MC, Surgeon 32d Div, 
to Chief Surgeon USASOS SWPA, 10 Dec 42, in 
Surgeon General's Hist File; Ltr, Col Hanna to 
author, 25 Nov 50; Maj Parker's Buna Rpt; Interv 
with Maj Odell, 14 Dec 50. 

22 Col Knight's Buna Rpt; Ltr, Col Hanna to 
author, 14 Oct 50; Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 26 
50. 



THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 



135 



water sufficiently to sterilize the tins and 
mess gear from which the troops ate — an 
open invitation to the same type of diarrhea 
and dysentery that had already overtaken 
•the 2d Battalion, 126th Infantry, in its 
march over the mountains. 23 

Artillery and Engineer Support 

As the troops marched out for the at- 
tack, there was a widespread belief at higher 
headquarters that the mortars, direct air 
support, and the few Australian pieces al- 
ready available in the area would be enough 
to clear the way for the infantry. 24 Even this 
represented better support than that advo- 
cated by General Kenney, who, in a letter to 
Lt. Gen. H. H. Arnold on 24 October, told 
the latter that neither tanks nor heavy artil- 
lery had any place in jungle warfare. "The 
artillery in this theater," he added, "flies." 25 

Neither General Harding nor his artillery 
commander, Brig. Gen. Albert W. Waldron, 
believed that the infantry could get along 
very well without the artillery. Strongly sup- 
ported by Harding, Waldron kept asking 
that the divisional artillery be brought for- 
ward. General MacArthur's headquarters 
did not have the means either to bring all 
the artillery forward or to keep it supplied 
when it got there. Not being at all sure that 
artillery could be used effectively or even be 
manhandled in the swampy terrain of the 
beachhead, GHQ was cool to the proposal. 



n Ltr, Col Hanna to author, 14 Oct 50; Interv 
with Maj Odell, 14 Dec 50; Hist Medical Activities 
32d Div, Papuan Campaign, in Surgeon General's 
Hist File. 

" Ltr, Col H. F. Handy, FA, to CG AGF, 13 Feb 
43, sub: Rpt of Military Observer in the Southwest 
Pacific Theater of Operations, in 381, OPD SWPA 
File, Sec 2; Interv with Gen Harding, 9 Dec 47; 
Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 24 Jul 51. 

2 ° Quoted in AAF, Air Action in the Papuan 
Campaign, p. 72. 



In the end, by dint of great persistence, and 
with the held of the Australian artillery 
commander, Brig. L. E. S. Barker, who 
thought as he did on the subject, W aldron 
got a few pieces of artillery — not his own, 
and not as much as he would have liked, but 
better than no artillery at all. 26 

If the division's artillery support — two 
3. 7 -inch howitzers and the promise of a 
four-gun section of 25-pounders which had 
yet to arrive at the front — was scanty, its 
engineer support was even scantier. Almost 
half of General Horii's original force had 
either been combat engineers or Army and 
Navy construction troops. Yet, General 
Harding, with the rainy season at hand, and 
every possibility that roads, bridges, and 
airfields would have to be built in the com- 
bat zone, had only a few platoons of the 
1 14th Engineer Battalion attached to his 
two combat teams. And these engineer 
troops reached the front almost empty- 
handed. They had no axes, shovels, or picks, 
no assault boats, very little rope, and not a 
single piece of block and tackle. The theory 
was that all these things would come up by 
boat with the heavy equipment. In practice, 
however, the failure to have their tools ac- 
company them meant that the engineer 
troops could do only the simplest pioneer 
work at a time when their very highest skills 
were needed. 27 

The Condition of the Troops 

Medical supplies at the front were criti- 
cally short as the troops marched out for the 
attack. Bismuth preparations for the treat- 
ment of gastrointestinal disturbances were 
almost unprocurable, and there was not 



28 Ltr, Gen Waldron to Gen Ward, 5 Mar 51; 
Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 25 Jul 51. 

2 ' Col Knight's Buna Rpt ; Maj Parker's Buna Rpt. 



136 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




enough quinine sulphate, the malaria sup- 
pressive in use at the time, for regular dis- 
tribution to the troops. There was no 
atabrine, and none was to be received 
throughout the campaign, 2 * 

Genera] Harding had arranged to have 
his medical supplies go forward by boat, 
only to find at the last minute that the boats 
were busy carrying other things. He did 
what he could in the emergency. Getting in 

"'" Ltr, Gen Harding to Brig Gen Ennis P. White- 
head, 14 Nov 42, copy in OCMH files; Ltr, Maj 
Herbert C. Wallace, M. C, Actg Surgeon 32d Div, 
to TAG, 28 Feb 43, sub: Monthly Sanitary Report, 
in Surgeon General's Hist File ; Ltr, Col MacNab to 
author, 14 Nov 49; Ltr, Col Herbert M. Smith to 
author, 16 Mar 50. 



touch immediately with General Whitehead, 
Harding explained to him that the medical 
supply situation was "snafu" and asked 
him to fly in the most urgently needed items 
"to take care of things until we can get the 
boat supply inaugurated." '"' 

Most of the troops had gone hungry; 
some had nearly starved during the ap- 
proach march, and food was still in short 
supply. Rations had accumulated in the 
rearward dumps between Wanigela and the 
front, but there was only a few days' supply 
at the front itself. It was assumed that this 



s °Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen Whitehead, 14 Nov 
42. 



THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 



137 



deficiency and other supply shortages would 
be made good as the attack progressed. 311 

Except for the latest arrivals (the 1st and 
3d Battalions, 126th Infantry) the troops 
presented anything but a soldierly appear- 
ance. Their uniforms were stained and tat- 
tered, few had underwear or socks, and their 
shoes in most cases were either worn out or 
in the process of disintegration. Most were 
bearded and unkempt, virtually all were 
hungry, and some were already showing un- 
mistakable signs of sickness and exhaustion. 31 

The 2d Battalion, 126th Infantry, and 
the troops who had marched with it across 
the mountains had been severely affected by 
the ordeal. The 1 28th Infantry, whose name 
for Pongani was "Fever Ridge," was not in 
much better condition. As the commander 
of the 2d Battalion recalls the matter, the 
trouble was that the men had been on short 
rations since mid-October; that they had 
made some extremely exhausting marches 
through the jungle "on a diet of one-third 
of a C-ration and a couple of spoonfuls of 
rice a day"; and that many of them already 
had "fever, dysentery, and jungle rot." :12 
General Eichelberger put the whole matter 
in a sentence when he wrote that, even be- 
fore the 3 2d Division had its baptism of fire, 
the troops were covered with jungle ulcers 
and "riddled with malaria, dengue fever, 
[and] tropical dysentery." a;< Sickness and 
exhaustion had already claimed many vic- 



™ Msg, Gen MacNidcr to Gen Harding, Ser 769, 
17 Nov 42; Msg, Col John Mott, CofS 32 d Div, to 
Gen MacNidcr, Ser 777, 1 7 Nov 42. Both in 32d 
Div G-2, G 3 Jnl. Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to 
author, 20 Jan 50; Ltr, Lt Col Herbert M. Smith 
to author, 16 Mar 50. 

" Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50; 
Interv with Col Baetcke, 17 Nov 50; Interv with 
Maj Odell, 14 Dee 50; Kahn, G. 1. Jungle, pp. 108, 
121, 122. 

: "Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 
33 Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 23. 



tims; they would claim many more as the 
fighting progressed. 

The Division's Estimate 
of Enemy Strength 

For all their hunger, their exhaustion, 
and their sickness, the troops were cocky 
and overconfident about the task that lay 
ahead. They had been told and they be- 
lieved that Buna was a "push over," and 
neither they nor their commanders saw any 
reason why it should not be theirs in a few 
days. No one — either at Port Moresby or 
at the front — believed that there would be 
any difficulty in taking Buna. Natives (who 
as was soon to become evident had no con- 
ception of numbers) had spied out the land 
and come back with reports that there were 
very few Japanese in the area. The air corps, 
similarly, had been reporting for more than 
a month that there were no Japanese to be 
seen at the beachhead and that there was no 
evidence that it was fortified or that the 
enemy had serious intentions of defending 
it.** 

As these reports of enemy weakness 
poured in, the 32d Division began to think 
in terms of a quick and easy conquest of 
Buna. "I think it is quite possible," wrote 
General Harding on 14 October, "that the 
Japanese may have pulled out some of their 
Buna forces. . . ." "We might find [ Buna] 
easy pickings," he added, "with only a shell 
of sacrifice troops left behind to defend it." 
By 20 October General Harding felt that 
there was "a fair chance that we will have 



" 32d Div G-2 Intel Summaries No. 6, 13 Oct 42, 
No. 7, 2 1 Oct 42, No. 8, 29 Oct 42, No. 9, 5 Nov 42, 
in DRB HRS, AGO; Col Handy's Buna Rpt; Col 
Knight's Buna Rpt; Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 
15 Nov 49; Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 
20 Jan 50; Ltr, Lt Col Herbert M. Smith to author, 
5 Jun 50. 



138 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Buna by the first of November." At the end 
of the month, he wrote that all information 
to date was to the effect that Japanese forces 
in the Buna-Gona area were relatively light 
and asked how GHQ would look upon No- 
vember 5 as a suitable date for D Day. 
"Things look pretty favorable right now," 
he said, "for a quick conquest of Buna." 35 
A Ground Forces observer, Col. H. F. 
Handy, noted that, as November opened, 
many in the 3 2d Division felt "that Buna 
could be had by walking in and taking 
over." ,s Another Ground Forces observer, 
Col. Harry Knight, noted that "the lid 
really blew off, when the order was re- 
ceived on 3 November that American troops 
were not to move forward from Mendaropu 
and Bofu until further instructed. The 
reason for the order was, of course, to 
gain time in which to stockpile supplies 
for the impending advance, but the divi- 
sion, restive and eager to be "up and at 'em" 
did not see it that way. 

. . . Opinions were freely expressed by 
officers of all ranks . . . [Colonel Knight re- 
calls] that the only reason for the order was a 
political one. GHQ was afraid to turn the 
Americans loose and let them capture Buna 
because it would be a blow to the prestige of 
the Australians who had fought the long hard 
battle all through the Owen Stanley Moun- 
tains, and who therefore should be the ones 
to capture Buna. The belief was prevalent 
that the Japanese had no intention of holding 
Buna; that he had no troops there; that he 
was delaying the Australians with a small 
force so as to evacuate as many as possible; 
that he no longer wanted the airfield there; 
. . . that no Zeros had been seen in that area 
for a month ; and that the Air Corps had pre- 
vented any reinforcements from coming in 
. . . and could prevent any future landing 



35 Ltrs, Gen Harding to Gen Sutherland, 14 Oct 
42. 20 Oct 42, 31 Oct 42, copies in OCMH files. 
M Col Handy's Buna Rpt. 
Col Knight's Buna Rpt. 



On 6 November Maj. W. D. Hawkins, 
General Harding's G— 2, noted that both 
ground and air reconnaissance reports indi- 
cated that Buna, Simemi, and Sanananda 
each held perhaps 200-300 Japanese with 
only "a small number" of enemy troops at 
Gona. He went on to guess that the enemy 
was already reconciled to the loss of Buna 
and probably intended to evacuate it en- 
tirely. Major Hawkins thought the Japa- 
nese would be most likely to try evacuating 
their forces by way of the Mambare River 
so as to be able to take them off at the river's 
mouth. They would do this, he suggested, in 
order to avoid a "Dunkirk" at Buna, since 
Buna was an open beach from which em- 
barkation by boats and barges would lay 
the evacuees open to heavy air attack. ss 

These optimistic views on the possibilities 
of an early Japanese withdrawal did not 
agree with General Willoughby's estimates 
of the situation. Willoughby estimated 
enemy strength on 1 November as two de- 
pleted regiments, a battalion of mountain 
artillery, and "normal" reinforcing and 
service elements — about 4,000 men in all. 
He thought that an enemy withdrawal from 
Buna was improbable, at least until the is- 
sue was decided at Guadalcanal. It was 
known, he said, that General Horii's orders 
were definitely to hold Buna until operations 
in the Solomons were successfully com- 
pleted. These orders, the Japanese hope of 
success in the Solomons, and what was 
known of the character and mentality of 
the Japanese commanders involved made 
it highly unlikely, General Willoughby 
thought, that there would be "a withdrawal 
at this time." 

By 14 November General Willoughby 
began to have doubts that the enemy had 
two regiments at Buna. He thought that the 

31 32d Div G-2 Daily Summary, Mo. 9, 6 Nov 42. 



THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 



139 



mauling taken by the Japanese at Oivi and 
Gorari had left them with about "one de- 
pleted regiment and auxiliary units" and 
that these, pending the outcome of the Solo- 
mons operation, were capable only of fight- 
ing a delaying action. It was therefore likely, 
General Willoughby suggested, that there 
would be close perimeter defense of the air- 
field and beachhead at Buna, followed by a 
general withdrawal, if the Japanese effort 
in the Solomons failed. That the enemy 
would attempt further reinforcement of the 
Buna area he thought improbable "in view 
of the conditions in the Solomons, and 
the logistic difficulties and risks which are 
involved." a! > 

General Vasey's estimate of the enemy's 
strength based on prisoner of war interroga- 
tions was, as of 14 November, 1,500 to 2,000 
men 4(1 — roughly the same figure that Gen- 
eral Willoughby seems to have had in mind 
in his revised estimate of the same day. Gen- 
eral Harding, who had Vasey's estimate, 
but had probably had no chance as yet to 
see Willoughby's, was more optimistic than 
either. Relying principally on information 
supplied by the natives, his G —2 had esti- 
mated that the "Buna area was garrisoned 
by not more than a battalion with purely 
defensive intentions." 41 Harding accepted 
this estimate, and the intelligence annex in 
his first field order of the campaign read as 
follows : 

The original enemy force based at Buna is 
estimated as one combat team with two extra 
infantry battalions attached. This force has 
been withdrawing steadily along the Kokoda 
Trail for the past six weeks. Heavy losses and 
evacuation of the sick have reduced them to 

3 " GHQ SWPA OI No. 23, 10 Nov 42 ; G 2 Daily 
Summaries Enemy Intel No. 235, 12-13 Nov 42, 
No. 237, 14-15 Nov 42. 

*> Msg, 7th Aust Div to Adv NGF, Ser 733, 14 
Nov 42, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. 

11 32d Div Intel Rpt, Papuan Campaign. 



an estimated three battalions, two of which 
made a stand in the Kokoda- Wairopi area, 
with the third occupying Buna and guarding 
the line of communications. Casualties in the 
two battalions in the Wairopi area have re- 
duced them to approximately 350 men, who, 
it is believed, are retiring northward along the 
Kumusi River Valley. . . . i2 

By the time the story got to the men it 
was to the effect that there were not over 
two squads of Japanese in Buna Village 
and that other enemy positions were prob- 
ably as weakly held. Told by their officers 
that the operation would be an easy one, 
and that only a small and pitiful remnant 
of the enemy force which had fought in the 
Owen Stanleys remained to be dealt with, 
the troops were sure that they could take 
Buna in a couple of days, and that about all 
that remained to be done there was to 
mop up. 43 

This was a sad miscalculation. The Japa- 
nese were present in much greater strength 
than the 32d Division supposed, and su- 
perbly prepared defensive positions stood in 
its way, as well as in the way of the 7 th 
Division which was to attack farther to the 
west. 

The Enemy Position 
The Japanese Line 

The Japanese had established a series of 
strong defensive positions along an eleven- 
mile front extending from Gona on their 

42 32d Div, FO No. 1, 15 Nov 42. 

"Memo, Col Russcl Reeder, WDGS, for Col 
William L. Ritchie, Chief, Southwest Pacific Gp 
OPD, 22 Feb 43, in 381 OPD SWPA, Sec 1; Col 
Knight's Buna Rpt; Col Handy' s Buna Rpt; Col 
Hale, Answers to Questions by Hist Sec, GHQ 
SWPA, as to Certain Phases of the Papuan Cam- 
paign: Ltr, Lt Col Herbert M. Smith to author, 5 
Jun 50; Eichelbergcr, Our Junge Road to Tokyo, 
pp. 19, 20. 



140 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



extreme right to Cape Endaiadere on their 
extreme left. The enemy line enclosed a rel- 
atively narrow strip along the foreshore. 
It varied from a few hundred yards to a 
few miles in depth and co vered an are a of 



about sixteen square miles. [Map V) 



The Japanese defense was built around 
three main positions. One was at Gona, 
another was along the Sanananda track, 
and the third was in the Buna area from 
Girua River to Cape Endaiadere. Each was 
an independent position, but their inward 
flanks were well guarded, and lateral com- 
munications between them, except where 
the coastal track had flooded, were good. 
Gona, a sandy trail junction covering the 
Army anchorage at Basabua, was well for- 
tified, though its proximity to the sea made 
impossible defense in any depth. There 
were strong and well-designed defenses 
along the Sanananda track and at the junc- 
tion of the several branch trails leading 
from it to Cape Killerton. On the other side 
of the Girua River equally formidable de- 
fenses covered the Buna Village, Buna Mis- 
sion, and Buna Strip areas. 

The main Japanese base was at Giruwa. 
The largest supply dumps and the 67th 
Line of Communications Hospital were lo- 
cated there. On this front the main Japa- 
nese defensive position was about three and 
one-half miles south of Sanananda Point, 
where a track to Cape Killerton joined the 
main track from Soputa to Sanananda 
Point. A lightly wooded area just forward 
of the track junction, and the sandy and 
relatively dry junction itself, bristled with 
bunkers, blockhouses, trenches, and other 
defensive positions. Beginning a couple of 
miles to the south, several forward outposts 
commanded the trail. About half a mile to 
the rear of the junction, where another trail 



branched from the main track to Cape Kill- 
erton, there was a second heavily fortified 
position, and beyond it, a third. These posi- 
tions were on dry ground — usually the only 
dry ground in the area. They were flanked 
by sago swamp, ankle to waist deep, and 
could be taken only by storm with maxi- 
mum disadvantage to the attackers. 44 

East of the Girua River, the Japanese 
line was even stronger because it presented 
a continuous front and could not be easily 
flanked. The line began at the mouth of the 
Girua River. Continuing southeastward, it 
cut through a coconut grove and then 
turned southward to the trail junction 
where the Soputa-Buna track forks to Buna. 
Village on the one hand and to Buna Mis- 
sion on the other. Sweeping north, the line 
enclosed the Triangle, as the fork was 
called, and then turned eastward from that 
narrow salient to the grassy area known 
as the Government Gardens. From the 
Gardens, it led south and then east through 
the main swamp to the grassy area at the 
lower or southern edge of the Old Strip. 
It looped around the strip and, continuing 
southward, enclosed the bridge between 
the strips. Then making a right-angled turn 
to the New Strip and following the south- 
ern edge of the strip to within a few hun- 
dred yards of the sea, it cut sharply north- 
east, emerging on the sea at a point about 
750 yards below Cape Endaiadere. 45 

Because the three-foot water table in the 



"[Japanese] Estimate of the Situation, 16-17 
Nov 42, in ATIS EP 29 ; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea 
Opns, 23 Sep 42-22 Jan 43 ; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, 
pp. 9, 39; 163d Inf CT, The Battle of Sanananda, 
in DRB HRS, AGO; Buggy, Pacific Victory, pp. 
196-97. 

" Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 10; Buna Target Plan 
[Mapl No. 24, in DRB HRS, AGO. 



THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 



141 



area ruled out the possibility of deep 
trenches and dugouts, the region was 
studded instead with hundreds of coconut 
log bunkers, most of them mutually sup- 
porting and organized in depth. In general, 
they were of two types: heavily reinforced 
bunkers located in more or less open ter- 
rain, and smaller, less heavily reinforced 
bunkers built where the terrain was over- 
grown with trees and vegetation that offered 
the defenders a measure of protection 
against air bombardment or artillery fire. 

There were a few variations. Now and 
then where the terrain particularly favored 
them, the Japanese had large, squat, earth- 
covered blockhouses, each capable of hold- 
ing twenty or thirty men. In addition, they 
had a few concrete and steel pillboxes be- 
hind the New Strip. 

Except for these variations, which were 
on the whole rare, the standard Japanese 
bunker in the area was of heavy coconut log 
and followed a common pattern. The base 
was a shallow trench, perhaps two feet deep. 
It was six to eight feet long and a few feet 
wide for the smaller bunkers, and up to 
thirty feet long and ten feet wide for the 
larger ones. Heavy coconut logs, about a 
foot thick, were used for both columns and 
crossbeams. The logs were cut to give the 
bunkers an interior height of from four to 
five feet, depending on the foliage and ter- 
rain. The crossbeams forming the ceiling 
were laid laterally to the trench. They usu- 
ally overlapped the uprights and were cov- 
ered by several courses of logs, and often by 
plates of sheet steel up to a quarter of an 
inch thick. The walls were revetted with 
steel rails, I-beams, sheet iron, log pilings, 
and forty-gallon steel oil drums filled with 
sand. 

As soon as the framework was up, the 
entire structure was covered with earth, 



rocks, and short chunks of log. Coconuts 
and strips of grass matting were incorpo- 
rated into the earth fill to assist in cushioning 
the pressures set up by high explosive, and 
the whole structure was planted with fast- 
growing vegetation. The result could 
scarcely have been improved upon. The 
bunkers, which were usually only about 
seven or eight feet above ground, merged 
perfectly with their surroundings and af- 
forded excellent concealment. 

As a further aid to concealment, firing 
slits were usually so small as to be nearly 
invisible from the front. In some cases (as 
when the bunkers were intended merely as 
protection from artillery and air bombard- 
ment) there were no slits at all. Entrance to 
the bunkers was from the rear, and some- 
times there was more than one entrance. 
The entrances were placed so that they 
could be covered by fire from adjacent 
bunkers, and they were usually angled to 
protect the occupants from hand grenades. 
The bunkers either opened directly onto fire 
trenches or were connected with them by 
shallow crawl tunnels. This arrangement 
permitted the Japanese to move quickly 
from fire trench to bunker and back again 
without fear of detection by troops only a 
few yards away. 

These formidable field fortifications were 
cleverly disposed throughout the Buna posi- 
tion. Bunker and trench systems, within the 
Triangle, in the Government Gardens, 
along Entrance Creek, and in the Coconut 
Grove on the other side of the creek, pro- 
tected the inland approaches to Buna Vil- 
lage and to Buna Mission, and the ap- 
proaches, in turn, were honeycombed with 
enemy emplacements. The main swamp 
protected the southern edge of the Old 
Strip, and bunkers, fire trenches, and 
barbed wire covered its northern edge. The 



142 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




COCONUT LOG BUNKER WITH FIRE TRENCH ENTRANCE in the B, 

Village area. 



bridge between the strips had bunkers and 
gun emplacements both at front and rear, 
and the bridge area could be swept by fire 
from both strips. There were bunkers, fire 
trenches, and breastworks behind the New 
Strip and in the Duropa Plantation, and 
fire in defense of the strip could also be laid 
down from the bridge area, from the Old 
Strip, and from the Y-shaped dispersal bays 
at its eastern end. The airstrips afforded the 
Japanese cleared fields of fire and made it 
possible for them to lay down bands of fire 
on troops who sought to flank the New Strip 
by crossing the bridge between the strips, 



or who tried advancing along its northern 

edge. J{! 

The Japanese line at Buna was, in its way, 



"Tel Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Ser 3609, 18 
Dec 42; Msg, NGF to 32d Div, Ser 3740, 19 Dec 
42 ; Memo, Maj W. D. Hawkins, 32d Div G-2, Ser 
3814, 21 Dec 42, sub: Constructional Details of 
Enemy Emplacements. All in 32d Div G— 3 Jnl. 
127th Inf Jnl, Ser 32, 21 Dec 42; Memo, Lt Col 
A.F.A. Irwin, RAE, 6th Aust Div, to Brig George 
F. Wootten, 18th Bde, 4 Jan 43, sub: Japanese 
Strong Points — Expedients in Assisting Attack, copy 
in OCMH files; Rpt. CG Buna Forces, pp. 96-98; 
163d Inf TC, The Battle of Sanananda, with incL. 



THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 



343 




INTERIOR OF COCONUT LOG BUNKER reinforced with sand-filled oil drums near. 
Duropa Plantation. 



a masterpiece. It forced the 3 2d Division to 
attack the enemy where he was strongest — 
in the Triangle, along the trail leading to the 
bridge between the strips; along the north- 
ern edge of the strip; and frontally in the 
Duropa Plantation. By canalizing the Allied 
attack into these narrow, well-defended 
fronts, the Japanese who had short, interior 
lines of communication, and could shift 
troops from front to front by truck and land- 
ing craft, were in a position to exploit their 
available strength to the maximum, no mat- 
ter what its numerical inferiority to that of 
the Allies. 



The Garrison 

Shortly after contact was lost with Gen- 
eral Horii, Colonel Yokoyama, commanding 
officer of the 15th Independent Engineers, 
took charge of all Japanese forces west of the 
river. Captain Yasuda, as the senior naval 
officer present, took command of those east 
of it. 47 



''Yokoyama Det Orders, 18 Nov 42, in ATIS 
EP 29; 17th Army Opns I, 130; 18th Army Opns 
I, 22. 



144 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



On 16 November, the day the Allies 
marched out for the attack, the Japanese 
garrison in the beachhead area was a 
jumble of broken Army and Navy units. 
Though riddled by battle casualties and 
disease, it still numbered approximately five 
and a half thousand effectives. 18 Army units 
included the remnants of the 144th Infan- 
try, of the. 15th Independent Engineers, the 
3d Battalion, 41st Infantry, the divisional 
cavalry detachment, and the 47th Field 
Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. In addition, 
a few field artillery batteries had been left to 
guard the beachhead along with a number 
of rear echelon units that had never been 
in combat. There were about 500 Yokosuka 
5th and Sasebo 5th special naval landing 
troops in the area, and perhaps twice that 
number of naval laborers from the 14th 
and 15th Naval Pioneer Units.* 9 



48 Rad, 67 th LofC Hospital, Giruwa, to CofS 17th 
Army, 15 Nov 42, in ATIS EP 29; AMF Interr Gen 
Adachi el al; 17th Army Opns I, 129-30. No pre- 
cise figure can be given for Japanese strength at the 
beachhead in mid-November, but it is possible to 
support the figure given above. When questioned at 
Rabaul in 1945, General Adachi (who should have 
known as he took charge of New Guinea operations 
two weeks later) gave the total Japanese strength on 
15 November as 9,000. His figure, however, included 
approximately 900 troops who were then with Col- 
onel Yazawa on the other side of the Kumusi, and 
another 900 who did not reach the beachhead from 
Rabaul until two days later. As it is known that 
some 1,800 men were hospitalized at the time in 
the 67th Line of Communications Hospital, it can 
be estimated that there were at least 5,500 effectives 
at the beachhead in mid-November, including of 
course, Army and Navy laborers. 

Nankai Shitai Opns Orders TEI No. 35, 6 Oct 
42, in ATIS EP 29; 67th LofC Hospital Fid Staff 
Diary, 1-31 Oct 42, in ATIS EP 24; 18th Army 
Opns I, 20-21 ; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, pp. 42-44. 
The Japanese had been evacuating their sick and 
wounded to Rabaul whenever the opportunity of- 
fered, and appear to have returned a number of 
their naval construction troops as well, presumably 
for more pressing construction work elsewhere. 



The Condition of the Enemy Troops 

The Japanese were in a bad way. In the 
long retreat from Ioribaiwa (and especially 
at Oivi and Gorari) and in the crossing of 
the Kumusi, they had lost irreplaceable 
weapons and supplies. Their most critical 
shortages were in small arms, food, and med- 
ical supplies — items that Lt. Col. Yoshinobu 
Tomita, the detachment supply officer, had 
for some time been doling out with a care- 
ful hand. 

All the weapons that could be scraped 
together were cither in the front lines or 
stacked where they would be readily avail- 
able when the front-line troops needed them. 
Except for troops immediately in reserve, 
most of the men to the rear had no weap- 
ons. Worried by the situation, Colonel Yoko- 
yama issued orders for all troops without 
arms to tie bayonets to poles. If they had 
no bayonets, they were to carry wooden 
spears. These "weapons" were to be carried 
at all times ; even the patients in the hospital 
were to have them at their bedsides. 50 

The troops had been on short rations for 
a long time, and the ration was progressively 
decreased. To eke it out, the few horses that 
were left were being gradually butchered 
for food. 

There was a great deal of sickness. Nearly 
all the troops being admitted to the hospital 
for wounds and disease were found to be 
suffering as well from exhaustion and gen- 
eral debility. There had been serious out- 
breaks of malaria in the ranks, and a large 
proportion of the men had dysentery of an 
aggravated kind. 

Things were at their worst at the base 
hospital at Giruwa. There was very little 
medicine, and not enough food to promote 



Yokoyama Det Bui, 2 Dec 42, in ATIS EP 24. 



THE ALLIES CLOSE IN 



145 



the recovery of the patients. Water had 
seeped into the wards, and the seepage, the 
extreme humidity, and heavy rains had 
caused clothes, bedding, and medical equip- 
ment to mold, rot, or rust away. As Novem- 
ber opened, the medical staff had reported 
that food and medicine were so short as "to 
militate absolutely against the recovery of 
the patients," and the situation, instead of 
improving, had become progressively 
worse.'' 1 Toward the end of the month, a 
Japanese soldier was to write in his diary: 
"The patients in the hospital have become 
living statues. There is nothing to eat. With- 
out food they have become horribly emacia- 
ted. Their appearance does not bear think- 
ing upon." r ' 2 

Despite these difficulties, the position of 
the Japanese was by no means hopeless. 
They had good stocks of ammunition, a 
strong defensive position, and enough men 
and weapons to hold it for a long time. 
What was more, they had every reason to 
expect that Rabaul would quickly reinforce 
and resupply them. Their orders were to 
hold, and, with a little help from Rabaul, 
they were prepared to do so indefinitely. 

Enemy Dispositions 

Colonel Yokoyama sent some 800 troops 
to Gona — a key position since it covered the 
all-important anchorage at Basabua. This 
force included an Army road-building unit 



51 67lh LofC Hospital Rpt of Service, 31 Ort 42, 
in ATIS EP 24; Rad, CO 67th LofC Hospital to 
CofS 17 th Army, 15 Nov 42; Yokoyama Det Bui, 
Giruwa, 22 Nov 42; Rad, Lt Col Yoshinobu Tomita 
to CofS 17th Army, 23 Nov 42. All in ATIS EP 29. 
Interr, Lt Zengoro Sawatari, Med Off, 144th Inf, 
in 32d Div Interrogation and Translation File; 
18th Army Opns I, 25. 

'"' Captured Japanese Diary, owner unknown, 
entry 27 Nov 42, Ser 3624, 18 Dec 42, in ,"2d Div 
G-3 Jnl. 



of about 600 men, the troops of a divisional 
water-purification and decontamination 
unit, and some walking wounded. The com- 
mander of the road-building unit, Maj. 
Tsume Yamamoto, was put in charge of 
the defense. J?i 

Colonel Yokoyama himself took over the 
defense of the vital Sanananda-Giruwa 
area. He ordered some 1,800 men — head- 
quarters and one company of the 3d Battal- 
ion, 41st Infantry, the main body of the 
1st Battalion, 144th Infantry, a portion of 
the 15th Independent Engineers, a 700-man 
contingent of Formosan naval laborers, and 
some walking wounded — to front-line posi- 
tions at the main junction of the Sanananda 
and Cape Killerton trails. The salient, 
known to the Japanese as South Giruwa, 
was divided into northern, central, and 
southwestern sectors, and put under com- 
mand of Colonel Tsukamoto. In reserve at 
the second trail junction a half-mile to the 
north, Colonel Yokoyama stationed a sec- 
ond company of the 3d Battalion, 4 1st In- 
fantry, a mountain gun battery, about 300 
men of the 15th Independent Engineers, 
and a portion of the antiaircraft battalion. 
Colonel Yokoyama moved his headquarters 
to Sanananda at the head of the trail and 
there stationed a second mountain artillery 
battery, the cavalry troop, the rest of the 
41st Infantry, and most of the naval con- 
struction troops in the Giruwa area. 

At Buna, Captain Yasuda had under his 
command the naval landing troops, an ele- 
ment of the 15th Independent Engineers, a 
section of the antiaircraft battalion, about 
450 naval laborers, and a few hundred 
Army service troops. He had some 75-mm. 
naval guns, a number of 13-mm. guns, sev- 
eral 37-mm. pompoms, and half a dozen 



53 18th Army Opns I, 21,24. 



146 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



3-inch antiaircraft guns. The engineers, the 
antiaircraft troops, and the service troops 
were assigned to the defense of the planta- 
tion, the New Strip, and the bridge between 
the strips. The Yokosuka 5th and Sasebo 
5th troops, as well as the naval laborers, 
were deployed in Buna Village, Buna Mis- 
sion, the Coconut Grove, and the Triangle. 54 
Reinforcements were quickly forthcom- 
ing. Tokyo had realized for some time that, 
despite the emphasis on retaking Guadal- 
canal, troops would also have to be sent to 
the Buna-Gona area if the beachhead was 
to be held. The troops immediately avail- 
able for the purpose were several hundred 
144th Infantry replacements who had just 
reached Rabaul from Japan and the 3d 
Battalion, 229th Infantry, a 38th Division 
unit whose two sister battalions were on 
Guadalcanal. The 229th Infantry had had 
combat experience in China, Hong Kong, 
and Java and was rated an excellent combat 
unit. 

The battalion under its commander, Maj. 
Hiaichi Kemmotsu, together with 300 144th 
Infantry replacements and the new com- 
mander of the 144th Infantry, Col. Hiroshi 
Yamamoto, was ordered to Basabua on 16 
November and arrived there by destroyer 
the following evening. There were about 
1 ,000 men in the convoy, and their arrival 
brought effective enemy strength at the 
beachhead to some 6,500 men, not includ- 

"Yokoyama Det Orders, 16 Nov 42, in ATIS 
EP 29; Japanese Strength and Dispositions on the 
Soputa— Sanananda Track, 20 Nov 42, translation 
of an enemy map captured at Gona by New Guinea 
Force, 8 Dee 42, in OCMH files; 18th Army Opns 
I, 20-21; US Buna Forces G-2 Periodic Rpt, 14 
Dec 42 4 Jun 43, in DRB HRS, AGO; Rpt, CG 
Buna Forces, pp. 43, 77. 



ing troops that might be released from the 
hospital later on and sent to the front. 

The incoming troops were transferred to 
Giruwa by barge and then sent on to the 
Cape Endaiadere— Durope Plantation— Buna 
Strips area. Colonel Yokoyama took com- 
mand of that area, and Captain Yasuda of 
the area west of it as far as the Girua River. 

The picture at Buna had changed. The 
Japanese there now had more than 2,500 
troops to man the defenses on that side of 
the river — almost half of them newly 
equipped and fresh from Rabaul. 55 

The Situation at Rabaul 

On 16 November, the day that Colonel 
Yamamoto was ordered to Buna, a new area 
command was established to control opera- 
tions in New Guinea and the Solomons. 
The new command, the 8th Area Army, un- 
der Lt. Gen. Hitoshi Imamura, was to have 
under it two armies — the 17th Army under 
General Hyakutake, which was to operate 
exclusively in the Solomons, and the 18th 
Army, under Lt. Gen. Hatazo Adachi, 
which was to operate in New Guinea. Gen- 
eral Adachi arrived at Rabaul on 25 No- 
vember and assumed command of the 18th 
Army the same day. His first task was to 
retrieve the situation in Papua — a very 
difficult assignment as he was soon to 
discover. 5 " 



55 [Japanese] Estimate of the Situation, 16 Nov 
42, 17 Nov 42 ; Tomita Det Bivouac Orders, Giruwa, 
17, 18 Nov 42. All in ATIS EP 29. 17th Army 
Opns I, 129 30; /8th Army Opns I, 16, 21. 

M 1st Demob Bur, GHQ FEC, Japanese Studies in 
World War II, No. 37, 8th Area Army Opns, p. 1 ; 
17th Army Opns I, 131 ; 18th Army Opns I, 22-23. 



CHAPTER IX 



The Opening Blows in General 
Vasey's Area 



On 16 November the 3 2d Division under 
General Harding and the 7th Division un- 
der General Vasey moved out against the 
enemy positions at the Buna-Gona beach- 
head. The Americans were o n the right, and 



the Australians on the left. (See Map V.) 
Between them ran the Girua River, the 
divisional boundary. East of the river, the 
126th Infantry troops under Colonel Tom- 
linson pushed off from Bofu and marched 
on Buna Village and Buna Mission by way 
of Inonda, Horanda, and Dobodura. War- 
ren Force, the 128th Infantry and support- 
ing elements, under General MacNider, 
sent out two columns from its positions 
along the coast : one along the coastal track 
leading to Cape Endaiadere; the other 
against the bridge between the strips. On 
the other side of the river, the 25th Brigade 
under Brigadier Eather left the Wairopi 
crossing early on the 16th and moved on 
Gona by way of Awala, Amboga Crossing, 
and Jumbora. Crossing the Kumusi close on 
the heels of the 25th Brigade, the 16th 
Brigade under Brigadier Lloyd began mov- 
ing on Sanananda the same day via Isivita, 
Sangara, Popondetta, and Soputa. Believ- 
ing like the Americans on the other side of 
the river that only a small number of the 
enemy remained, the Australians advanced 
confidently, sure of a quick and easy victory. 



The Attacks on Gona 
The 25th Brigade Bogs Down 1 

Gona was forty miles from Wairopi, and 
the trail, a poor one frequently lost in mud, 
lay through bush, jungle, kunai flat, and 
swamp. The 25th Brigade moved out to- 
ward Gona on 16 November, the 2/33 Bat- 
talion leading and the 2/25 Battalion 
bringing up the rear. There was no enemy 
contact on either the 16th or the 17 th but 
the heat was intense and men began drop- 
ping out with malaria and collapsing with 
heat prostration. The 2/33 Battalion, Lt. 
Col. A. W. Buttrose commanding, reached 
Jumbora on the afternoon of 18 November 
and started to prepare a dropping ground. 
One of its companies moved forward to 
Gona to find out if the place was defended. 

The company quickly discovered that 
there were Japanese at Gona. Major Yama- 
moto's original allotment of 800 men had 
been reinforced bv an additional hundred 



1 Except for the passages on the Japanese side, 
which are to be found in 18th Army Opns I, 24, the 
following subsection is based mainly on the official 
Australian manuscript history, Dudley McCarthy, 
The Southwest Pacific Area: The First Year, Ch. 16, 
Gona. Other pertinent sources are the ALF Daily 
Opns Rpts for the days in question, and NGF Notes 
on Opns in New Guinea, Ser 3. 



148 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Creek hoif mile 
east of Mission 



Gona Mission 




GONA MISSION AREA 



men — eighty from the 41st Infantry, and broad mouth of Gona Greek, an expanse of 

the rest walking wounded from the hospital. water just wide enough to make an attack 

The Japanese defense was centered on from the other side of the creek unlikely. 

Gona Mission at the head of the trail. The Immediately to the south, and along the 

mission and the surrounding native village east bank of the creek, was an overgrown 

area were honeycombed with bunkers, timbered area which bristled with defense 

trenches, and firing pits, and every ap- works. To the east a labyrinth of hidden 

proach was covered. On the west lay the firing pits with overhead cover extended 



THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA 



149 



along the shore for a distance of about three 
quarters of a mile. With such defenses at 
their disposal, a resolute garrison could 
hope to hold for a long time. 

The company of the 2/3 3d which had 
gone on ahead to investigate ran into the 
most southerly of the Japanese defenses late 
on 18 November. The position, a strong, 
well-prepared one with cleared fields of fire, 
was about 1 ,000 yards south of the mission. 
Next morning when the 2/31 Battalion, 
which was now in the lead, came up, it 
found the sixty men of the company in an 
intense fire fight with an enemy who was 
well hidden and well dug in, and whose fire 
commanded every approach. The 2/3 1st, 
under its commander, Lt. Col. James Mil- 
ler, attacked vigorously but could not pene- 
trate the enemy's protective fires. By night- 
fall, when it was ordered to disengage, the 
battalion had lost thirty-six killed and 
wounded. 

By this time the brigade had outrun its 
supply. Ammunition had run low, and the 
troops, hungry, and racked with fevers, 
were without food. The supply situation 
righted itself on 2 1 November when supply 
planes came over Jumbora and dropped 
what was needed. Brigadier Eathcr at once 
assigned a company of the 2/33 Battalion 
to guard the supply dump. When a forty- 
five man detachment of the 2/16 Battalion 
which had previously been operating in the 
Owen Stanleys was made available to him 
that day, he ordered it to take up a position 
on the west bank of Gona Creek in order 
to cover his left flank. The 25th Brigade 
was finally ready to attack. 

Eather's command now numbered less 
than 1,000 men. Thus far he had no idea of 
how strong an enemy force was facing him. 
He did not yet realize that the Japanese de- 



fending Gona from carefully prepared posi- 
tions had roughly the same number of 
troops that he had. 

The attack began early on 22 November. 
The 2/33 Battalion attacked frontally 
along the track; the 2/25 Battalion, in re- 
serve, moved out on the left of the track to 
be in position to attack from the southwest 
if called upon; the 2/31 Battalion, which 
was to launch the main attack, pushed for- 
ward on the right toward the beach, turned 
left, and attacked from the east. 

Moving through swamp, the troops got as 
close as they could to the Japanese posi- 
tions and then went in on the run with 
bayonets fixed. They did not go far. The 
leading troops had scarcely reached the 
Japanese front-line positions when the en- 
tire attacking wave was met by such intense 
enfilading fire from right and left that the 
troops had to pull back into the swamp. 
This abortive attack cost the 2/31 Battalion 
sixty-five killed and wounded. 

The next day Brigadier Eather tried 
again. He switched the 2/25 Battalion 
from the left flank to the right and ordered 
it to launch a new attack from the east that 
afternoon. The 2/25th, Lt. Col. Richard H. 
Marson commanding, passed through the 
2/3 1st and attacked westward, supported 
by fire from its sister battalion. The result 
was the same. No sooner had the troops ap- 
proached the enemy position than enfilading 
fire drove them back into the swamp, like 
the 2/31 Battalion before them. The 2/25th 
lost sixty-four men in the day's fighting, only 
one less than the 2/3 1st in the attack of the 
day before. 

The situation had turned serious. In only 
three days of fighting, the brigade had lost 
204 killed and wounded. There was little to 
show for these losses. Although the Japanese 



150 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



had pulled back along the track, they were 
still holding the village and the mission and 
had apparently given as good as they got. 

Realizing only too well now that he faced 
a strong, well-entrenched enemy, Brigadier 
Eather called for an air strike to soften up 
the Japanese position. When it was over, he 
planned to attack again with the 3d In- 
fantry Battalion which had meanwhile come 
under his command. 

The air force flew over Gona on 24 No- 
vember and gave the place a thorough 
bombing and strafing. On the next day the 
3d Battalion, now less than 200 strong, 
attacked Gona from the southwest. For the 
first time the attack was well prepared. 
Not only did the 2/25 and 2/31 Battalions 
fire in its support, but four 25-pounders 
which had reached Soputa on 23 Novem- 
ber fired 250 rounds of preparatory fire 
before the troops jumped off. Under the 
command of Lt. Col. Allan G. Cameron, 
the battalion got about fifty yards inside 
the Japanese position but, as in the case of 
the other attacks, was met by such intense 
fire that it too had to withdraw. The attack, 
though a failure like the rest, had one re- 
deeming feature: unlike the inadequately 
prepared attacks which had preceded it, 
casualties were relatively light. 

The 21st Brigade Opens Its Attack 

By now the 25th Brigade was no longer 
in condition to attack. The total strength of 
its three battalions amounted to less than 
750 men — two were under 300 men, and 
one, the 2/3 1st, was under 200. The troops 
were exhausted, and the number of sick 
from malaria and other causes was increas- 
ing daily. What was left of the brigade could 
still be used to contain the enemy but could 



scarcely be expected to do more. The task 
of clearing Gona fell therefore to General 
Vasey's reserve unit, the 21st Brigade, Brig. 
Ivan N. Dougherty commanding. It was 
only about 1,1 00 strong, but the men, after 
a long rest at Port Moresby, were fit and 
ready to go. 

Advance elements of the new brigade be- 
gan moving into the line on 28 November. 
By 30 November the brigade had com- 
pletely taken over. Pending the receipt of 
orders returning it to Port Moresby, the 
25th Brigade took up a position along the 
track just south of Gona and lent such sup- 
port as it could to the 21st Brigade, whose 
opening attacks on the place were, to Brig- 
adier Dougherty's chagrin, proving no more 
successful than its own. 2 

The capture of Gona, which the Aus- 
tralians had thought initially to be unde- 
fended, had turned out to be an extremely 
difficult task. After almost two weeks of at- 
tack, it was still in enemy hands. The Japa- 
nese had suffered heavy losses and had been 
forced to contract their lines until they held 
little more than a small area immediately 
around the mission, but they were still re- 
sisting with the utmost tenacity, and their 
perimeter had yet to be breached. The al- 
most fanatical resistance of Major Yama- 
moto's troops served its purpose. Australian 
troops that might otherwise have been avail- 
able for use elsewhere in the beachhead area 
were at the end of the month still trying to 
take Gona. 



! ALF Daily Opns Rpt No. 230, 30 Nov 42; 
Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 29-30 Nov 42; G-3 
Opns Rpts, No. 237, 29-30 Nov 42, No. 238, 30 
Nov-1 Dec 42; Msg, 7th Div to 32d Div, Ser 29, 
1 Dec 42, in G-2 Jnl ; 32d Div; NGF Notes on Opns 
in New Guinea, Scr 3; ALF Rpt on New Guinea 
Opns, 23 Sop 42-22 Jan 43; McCarthy, op. cit., 
Ch. 16. 



THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA 



151 



The 16th Brigade Moves on Sanananda 

The Australians Reach 
the Track Junction 

The leading battalion of the 16th Bri- 
gade, the 2/2d, Lt. Col. C. R. V. Edgar 
commanding, was across the Kumusi by the 
early morning of 16 November. Edgar 
struck out at once for Popondetta. Behind 
him in order were Brigadier Lloyd and his 
headquarters, the 2/3 Battalion, and the 
2/1 Battalion. 

The men plodded along without rations, 
tired and hungry. They were gnawing green 
papayas and sweet potatoes, whatever they 
could find. Some were so hungry they 
chewed grass. 

A torrential rain struck the next day, 
turning the track into a sea of mud. Even 
minor creeks were almost impossible to ford. 
The troops still had no food, and that day 
fifty-seven men of the 2/2d collapsed on the 
trail from exhaustion, heat prostration, and 
hunger. 

There was no food on the 18th — only a 
rumor that the planes would drop some at 
Popondetta. The 2/2d reached Popon- 
detta that evening, but there was no food 
there either. Rations would be waiting for 
them, the troops were told, at Soputa, a 
day's march away. 

Leaving some troops at Popondetta to 
prepare an airstrip, the brigade pushed off 
for Soputa on 19 November, the 2/3 Bat- 
talion leading. Rations had been dropped 
during the morning at Popondetta and 
caught up with the troops by noon, at which 
time the men had their first meal in three 
days. The battalion approached Soputa 
toward evening and ran into resistance just 
outside the village. Maj. Ian Hutchinson, 
the battalion commander, at once deployed 



his troops for attack. Darkness fell before 
the battalion could clear out the enemy, and 
the weary troops dug in. 

Next morning the Japanese were gone. 
Brigadier Lloyd sent a covering force to the 
Girua River crossing, about half a mile east 
of Soputa, and the 2/3 Battalion marched 
out along the track in pursuit of the Japa- 
nese. Finding no enemy after a half-hour 
march, the troops were busily eating break- 
fast by the side of the track, when the 2/ 1 
Battalion, taking the lead, pushed past them. 
After about fifteen minutes of marching 
through brush and scrub, the 2/1 began 
debouching onto a broad kunai flat and 
there was met by heavy enemy fire, includ- 
ing artillery fire. 3 

The 2/ 1st had to run into Colonel Tsuka- 
moto's most southerly outpost. This outpost 
was manned by a covering detachment 
whose mission was to delay an advancing 
force, thus giving Tsukamoto time to com- 
plete preparations for the defense of his 
main position at the junction of the Cape 
Killerton and Soputa-Sanananda tracks. 

Lt. Col. Paul A. Cullen, the battalion 
commander, ordered an immediate attack. 
One company of the 2/1 started moving 
frontally up the track. A second company 
started flanking on the right. A third com- 
posite company moved out wide on the left. 
The troops in the center and on the right 
made some gains at first, but by noon they 
were meeting strong resistance that balked 
further progress that day. The company on 
the left under command of a particularly 
aggressive young officer, Capt. B. W. T. 
Catterns, did better. This force, ten officers 
and eighty-one enlisted men (all that was 
left of two companies ) , made a wide detour 



3 ALF Daily Opns Rpt No. 220, 20 Nov 42 ; Mc- 
Carthy, op. cit., Ch. 17; Maj. J. W. Dunlop, 2/2 
Bn, The Sanananda Track, abstract in OCMH files. 



152 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



around the Japanese right flank, taking par- 
ticular care to keep clear of the kunai flat 
which the enemy was defending. By evening 
Catterns was about two miles behind the 
Japanese and in position to come in on their 
right rear. 

Creeping stealthily forward, the Aus- 
tralians surprised a number of Japanese at 
their evening meal, killed about eighty of 
them, and established a strong, all-around 
perimeter just east of the track. The Japa- 
nese attacked Catterns all day on 21 No- 
vember, hitting him repeatedly from three 
sides. Though they were running short of 
ammunition, Catterns' troops in a stirring 
defense not only beat off the enemy but 
inflicted heavy casualties upon him. 

The Australians on the right were quick 
to profit from the enemy's absorption in 
Catterns' attack. Two companies of Colonel 
Edgar's 2/2 Battalion, under Capts. Athel- 
stan K. Bosgard and Jack M. Blarney, 
pushed around the enemy's left flank and 
kept going. By evening they had gained 
3,000 yards and had taken an enemy rice 
dump in an abandoned banana plantation, 
about 600 yards east of the track. As the 
Australians moved into the dump area, the 
Japanese rallied, mounted a strong attack, 
and brought the drive on the right to a com- 
plete halt. 

Catterns had meanwhile won his battle. 
Unable to dislodge him, the Japanese cov- 
ering force fell back that night to the track 
junction, abandoning still another prepared 
defensive position on the kunai flat which 
it was now no longer in a position even to 
try to hold. 

Catterns lost sixty-seven of his ninety men 
in the engagement, but his attack was a bril- 
liant success. Not only had it turned the 
enemy's flank, but it had made possible the 
deep penetration on the right. Left with no 



choice but to withdraw, the Japanese had 
pulled all the way back to their main de- 
fenses in the track junction. 

When the attack was over and Catterns' 
company had been relieved by a company of 
the 2/3 Battalion, the Australians had a new 
east-west front line which was pivoted on 
the track and lay within easy attacking dis- 
tance of the enemy positions immediately 
south of the track junction. The Australian 
left was just south of the perimeter Catterns 
had held on the 21st, a slight withdrawal 
having been ordered there for tactical rea- 
sons. In the center the Australians were 
astride the track several hundred yards to 
the south of the main Japanese defenses cov- 
ering the track junction. On the right, to the 
southeast of the junction, they held the ba- 
nana plantation and the rice dump, their 
forward foxholes in the relatively open plan- 
tation area being only thirty or forty yards 
away from those of the enemy. 

By this time the strength of the brigade 
after not quite two months of action had 
gone down from almost 1,900 officers and 
men to a force of barely 1 ,000. Most of the 
companies in the line were at half strength 
or less. Catterns' company, for instance, 
had only twenty-three officers and men, and 
the company of the 2/3 Battalion that re- 
lieved his unit had less than fifty men. The 
two companies on the right under Captains 
Bosgard and Blarney did not exceed forty 
men each, and the other companies were 
similarly depleted. 

Despite their dashing showing on 2 1 No- 
vember, the troops of the brigade were in 
poor physical condition. They were fever- 
ish, hungry, and exhausted, and an ever in- 
creasing number were being hospitalized for 
malaria and other diseases. The brigade was 
still a fighting force. It could still hold, but 
its men, for the present at least, were too 



THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA 



153 



worn out to do more. Until they had a little 
rest another force would have to take over 
the attack. That force, by decision of Gen- 
eral MacArthur, was to be Colonel Tomlin- 
son's 126th U. S. Infantry, the regiment to 
which General Harding had given the task 
of taking Buna Village and Buna Mission. 4 

General Vasey Is Given 
the 126th Infantry 

Because he could make no radio contact 
with the 7th Division, and had no assurance 
that the Australians would get to Soputa in 
time to close his inward flank, General 
Harding ordered Colonel Tomlinson on the 
morning of 18 November to march on Buna 
via Popondetta and Soputa. Tomlinson, 
who was then at Inonda, was told that, if 
the Australians were at Popondetta by the 
time his leading elements got there, he was 
to order his troops back to Inonda and, as 
previously planned, move them on Buna 
via Horanda and Dobodura. 

Early on 19 November Colonel Tomlin- 
son sent Major Bond and Companies I and 
K, 126th Infantry, across the Girua River 
to find out if the Australians had as yet 
reached Popondetta. Bond made contact 
with an Australian unit just outside of 
Popondetta at 1130 that day. When he 
learned that the main Australian force had 
already passed Popondetta and was on its 
way to Soputa, Bond ordered his two com- 
panies back to Inonda. The regiment, 
which had been down to its last C ration 
on 18 November, had rations and ammuni- 
tion dropped to it at Inonda on the 19th and 
began marching on Buna, via Horanda, 



4 Msg, NGF to 126th Inf (repeated to 32d Div) 
1840, 19 Nov 42, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl ; Maj 
Dunlop, The Sanananda Track ; McCarthv, op. cit. 
Ch. 17. 



and Dobodura, the 2d Battalion as before 
leading." 

At Port Moresby meanwhile, higher 
headquarters, with General MacArthur's 
approval, had decided to give the 126th 
Infantry to General Vasey for action on 
the Sanananda track, rather than let it pro- 
ceed as originally planned to Buna. The 
point was made that there seemed to be 
more Japanese in General Vasey's area 
than in General Harding's, and that the 
main effort would therefore have to be 
made west of the Girua River. If need be, 
higher headquarters decided, this was to be 
accomplished at the expense of the offensive 
effort on the eastern side of the river. 

After this decision, General Vasey was 
told that he could have the 126th Infantry 
if he thought he needed it to take Sana- 
nanda. Knowing only too well how tired 
and depleted the 1 6th Brigade was, General 
Vasey accepted the offer with alacrity, and 
General Herring at once ordered Colonel 
Tomlinson to Popondetta with instructions 
to report to General Vasey.* 

The diversion of the 126th Infantry to 
General Vasey's command greatly dis- 
turbed General Harding, who could see lit- 
tle justification for the diversion of half his 
troop strength to General Vasey just as he 
was about to use it to take Buna. In a mes- 
sage 'Tor General Herring's eyes only," he 
urged that the decision to take the 126th 
Infantry away from him be reconsidered as 
likely to lead to confusion, resentment, and 
misunderstanding. The message went out at 
0100, 20 November, and General Herring, 



126th Inf Jnl, Ser 17, 18 Nov 42, Ser 6, 9, 10, 
19 Nov 42 

"Msg, NGF to 32d Div, No 933, 19 Nov 42, 
Msg, NGF to 126th Inf, No 941, 19 Nov 42, Msg, 
NGF to 7th Aust Di\, No 966, 19 Nov 42, Msg, 
Gen Herring to Gen Harding, No 1068, 20 Nov 42 
All in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl 



154 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



in a stiff note, replied at 1420 that the de- 
cision would have to stand, and that he was 
counting on Harding to make no further 
difficulties in the matter. 7 General Harding 
had no further recourse. He would have to 
make out as best he could at Buna without 
Colonel Tomlinson's troops. 

The Regiment Arrives at Soputa 

On 19 November Colonel Tomlinson 
was ordered by New Guinea Force to re- 
port to the 7th Division. Surprised by the 
order, Tomlinson immediately tried check- 
ing with General Harding by radio to make 
sure that there was no mistake. Unable to 
make radio contact with Harding, he got in 
touch with the rear echelon of the regiment 
at Port Moresby. Learning from the regi- 
mental base that he had indeed been re- 
leased from the 3 2d Division, he began 
moving on Popondetta early on the 20th. 
Accompanied by a small detail, including 
Captain Boice, his S— 2, and Captain Dixon, 
his S-3, he reported to General Vasey at 
Popondetta that afternoon. Vasey at once 
sent him to Soputa where he was to come 
under the command of Brigadier Lloyd. 

The regiment had already begun moving. 
Major Bond and the men of Companies I 
and K, who had been on their way back 
to Inonda when the orders came for the regi- 
ment to cross the Girua and come under 
Australian command, led the march to 



'Msg, Gen Harding to Gen Herring, 0100, 20 
Nov 42; Msg, Gen Herring to Gen Harding, No. 
1068, 20 Nov 42. Both in 32 d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 
Interv with Gen Harding, 27 Jun 49. Although 
General Harding's message is mentioned by number 
in General Herring's message, no copy of it is to 
be found in the records of the 32d Division. Its gist 
as given above is from General Harding's personal 
recollection on the matter. 



Soputa. Major Baetcke, whom Colonel 
Tomlinson had left in command at Inonda, 
departed for Soputa with the rest of the 
regiment the same afternoon. Only an air- 
dropping detail and a couple of hundred 
natives were left at Inonda. Their instruc- 
tions were to bring forward all the supplies 
accumulated there as quickly as possible. 

Although it had rained during the pre- 
ceding few days and the march was through 
heavy mud, the troops made good time. By 
the evening of 21 November, the whole 
force — regimental headquarters, Major 
Boerem's two companies and platoon of the 
1st Battalion, Major Smith's 2d Battalion, 
the 17th Portable Hospital, the Service 
Company, and a platoon of Company A, 
1 14th Engineer Battalion — had reached 
Soputa. The men arrived wet and hungry. 
They were at once attached to the 16th 
Brigade and assigned a bivouac near Soputa. 

General Vasey in the meantime had set 
22 November as the day that the Americans 
were to be committed to action. With the 
successful advance of the 16th Brigade on 
21 November, the plan now was that the 
brigade would hold and make no further 
attempt to advance until the Americans had 
taken the track junction. 8 

The situation was to the liking of the de- 
pleted and exhausted 16th Brigade. As the 
Australian historian Dudley McCarthy puts 
it, ". . . the Australians were content to sit 
back for a while and watch the Americans. 
There was a very real interest in their obser- 
vation and a certain sardonic but concealed 
amusement. The Americans had told some 
of them that they 'could go home now' as 



8 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 5, 14, 19 Nov 42, Sers 4, 6, 
20 Nov 42 : 126 th Inf CT AAR, Papuan Campaign : 
Ltr, Col Tomlinson to Gen Ward, 7 Mar 51; Mc- 
Carthy, op. cit., Ch. 17. 



THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA 



155 



they (the Americans) 'were here to clean 
things up.' " 9 

The Americans Take Over 
The Troops Move Out for the Attack 

On the evening of 2 1 November Colonel 
Tomlinson, who, with Captains Boice and 
Dixon, had already reconnoitered the front 
in the company of both General Vasey and 
Brigadier Lloyd, met with his battalion com- 
manders to plan the next morning's attack. 
Little was known about the terrain ahead. 
The map being used at the time by the 1 6th 
Brigade was the provisional 1 -inch-to- 1 -mile 
Buna Sheet. In addition to being inaccurate, 
it was blank as far as terrain features in the 
track junction were concerned. All that it 
showed was the junction, the Cape Killer- 
ton track, and the Soputa-Sanananda track. 
The rest was left to the troops to fill in. 

As he started planning for the attack, 
Colonel Tomlinson knew only that heavy 
bush, jungle, and swamp lay on either side 
of the junction, and that the junction itself 
was covered by well-prepared enemy de- 
fenses, location and depth unknown. The 
Japanese position, he noted, was an inverted 
V. To flank it, he would have to attack it in 
a larger V. His plan was therefore to use 
Major Bond's 3d Battalion to probe the 
enemy position and move behind it in a 
double envelopment from right and left. 
When that maneuver was completed, he 
would send in Major Smith's 2d Battalion 
and, as he phrased it, "squeeze the Japanese 
right out." 

Tomlinson quickly worked out the details 



"McCarthy, op. cit., Ch. 17. 



of the attack. While Major Boerem's detach- 
ment tried attacking frontally along the 
track, Major Bond's battalion would move 
up into the 16th Brigade's area and, from a 
central assembly point about four miles 
north of Soputa, would march out on right 
and left to begin the envelopments. The 2d 
Battalion, in need of rest after its march over 
the Owen Stanleys, was to remain in the So- 
puta area in reserve, to be called upon when 
needed. 10 

The 2d Battalion had no sooner settled it- 
self in its bivouac than New Guinea Force 
ordered it back across the Girua River to re- 
join the 3 2d Division. General Herring gave 
the order in response to a request from Gen- 
eral Harding for the reinforcement of the 2d 
Battalion, 128th Infantry, which had run 
into difficulties on General Harding's left 
flank. Major Smith's battalion left Soputa 
for the river crossing, half a mile away, 
early on 22 November. It got there only to 
discover that the river, which was un- 
bridged, was in flood and could not be 
forded. A cable was thrown over the river, 
and the troops crossed in hastily put together 
rafts, which were guided to the other side by 
the cable. The battalion finished crossing 
the river late that evening and fought there- 
after on the eastern side of the river. 11 

Major Smith's battalion and the bulk of 
Colonel Carrier's battalion — some 1,500 
men — were now both east of the Girua 



10 126th Inf Jnl, Ser 23, 21 Nov 42; Interv with 
Col Baetcke, 17 Nov 50; Ltr, Col Clarence M. 
Tomlinson to author, 28 Nov 50; McCarthy, op. cit., 
Ch. 17. 

" Msg, Gen Harding to NGF, Ser 1099, 21 Nov 
42; Msg, NGF to 32d Div, No. G-01559, 22 Nov 
42; Msg, Maj Smith to 32d Div, Ser 1254, 23 Nov 
42. All in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jul; 126th Inf Jnl, 
Sers 8, 49, 22 Nov 42; Interv with Maj Odcll, 14 
Dec 50. 



156 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



River. 12 Colonel Tomlinson was left with the 
comand only of the 126th Infantry troops 
west of it — Headquarters and Headquarters 
Company, Major Boerem's detachment, 
Major Bond's 3d Battalion, the regimental 
Cannon and Antitank Companies, a detach- 
ment of the Service Company, and attached 
medical and engineer troops — a total of 
1,400 men. 13 The Cannon and Antitank 
Companies were still at Wairopi and would 
not arrive at Soputa for some time. The en- 
velopments would have to be made with the 
troops at hand — Major Boerem's detach- 
ment and Major Bond's battalion. 

Though he was now without his reserve 
battalion, Colonel Tomlinson proceeded as 
planned with the envelopments. Major 
Boerem's detachment would engage the en- 
emy frontally along the track, and the 3d 
Battalion — Companies I and K on the left 
and Company L on the right — would make 
the envelopments, supported by elements of 
Company M. 

Companies I, K, and L, strengthened in 
each case by machine gun and mortar ele- 
ments from Company M, left the regimental 
bivouac area near Soputa at 0640, 22 No- 
vember, their faces daubed with green for 
action in the swamp and jungle terrain fac- 
ing them. The troops had been issued two 



lz It will be recalled that Colonel Carrier and 
most of the 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry, 589 offi- 
cers and men, had been flown from Port Moresby 
to Abel's Field, when the landing field at Pongani 
had closed temporarily because of heavy rains, and 
that the next day the rest of the troops 218 men, 
under Major Boerem, had been flown to Pongani 
upon the opening there of a new all-weather field. 
The two detachments became separated. The bulk 
of the battalion, under Colonel Carrier, fought 
thereafter cast of the river. Major Boerem's detach- 
ment (which with late comers and attached troops 
was to reach a strength of about 250 men) fought 
west of it. 

u Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen MacArthur, 14 
Jan 43, copy in OCMH files. 



days' rations, hand grenades, and as much 
.30-caliber and .45-caliber ammunition as 
they could carry. Twenty rounds had been 
issued for each mortar, and arrangements 
had been made to have additional rations, 
equipment, and ammunition brought for- 
ward as needed by native carriers and by 
Company M. 

The 3d Battalion moved up to its desig- 
nated assembly area, and there, about four 
miles north of Soputa and about 1,000 
yards south of the track junction, Major 
Bond established his CP. Continuing up 
the track, Major Boerem's detachment 
passed through a company of the 2/3 Bat- 
talion under Capt. N. H. L. Lysaght, the 
most advanced unit on the trail, and began 
moving into position immediately to Ly- 
saght's front. Companies I and K, Capt. 
John D. Shirley and Lt. Wilbur C. Lytle 
commanding, accompanied by Capt. Mere- 
dith M. Huggins, battalion S-3, moved 
out on the left at 0940; Company L, under 
Capt. Bevin D. Lee, pushed off on the right 
an hour and a half later. Company M, 
under Capt. Russell P. Wildey, less such of 
its machine gun and mortar elements as 
were with the companies in attack, went 
into bivoua c 200 yards to the rear of Major 
Bond's CP. " 



(Map 8) 



By 1 100 Companies I and K had passed 
through the Australian troops on the left — 
two companies of the 2/2 Battalion under 
command of Capt. Donald N. Fairbrother. 
At 1445 Company L had reached the right- 
flank position in the banana plantation held 
by the remaining two companies of the 
2/2d under Captains Bosgard and Blarney. 
By this time Major Boerem's detachment 
had passed through Captain Lysaght's com- 
pany and was dug in immediately to its 
front. The rest of the 2/3 Battalion was in 
position behind Lysaght to give the center 



THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA 



157 




depth and serve as a backstop should the 
Japanese try to break out from the track 
junction. Colonel Tomlinson's attack was 
almost ready to go. 14 

14 126th Inf Jnl, Ser 23, 21 Nov 42, Sers 12, 14, 
18, 24, 22 Nov 42; Jnl, Maj Bocrcm's Det; 126th 
Inf CT AAR, Papuan Campaign; McCarthy, op. 
cit., Ch. 17. 



The Envelopments Begin 

At 1100 Company K under Lieutenant 
Lytle moved out into the no man's land 
on the Australian left. Company I un- 
der Captain Shirley followed immediately, 
swinging wide around Lytle's left. Colonel 



158 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Tsukamoto had patrols in the area, and 
Company K ran into the first of them at 
1 1 10, only ten minutes out. The patrol was 
a small one, and Lytic had no trouble dis- 
persing it. Company I, which was covering 
Company K from the left, ran into a much 
larger force at 1215. Shirley started flanking 
on right and left, and the Japanese after a 
heavy exchange of fire withdrew. At 1300 
Company K again received fire, probably 
from the same force which had tried to am- 
bush Company I. Lieutenant Lytle started 
flanking, and the enemy again withdrew. 

The two companies suffered light casual- 
ties in these encounters — four killed and 
four wounded. The terrain was heavy bush 
and swamp, hard to get through, and with 
no prominent terrain features from which 
to take a bearing. Having had very little 
training in patrolling, the troops got their 
directions skewed during the frequent har- 
assing encounters with the enemy. By the 
end of the day they found themselves only 
about 350 yards north of the Australians 
and not, as they had planned, several times 
that distance from them. 

Captain Lee's Company L, with a pla- 
toon of Company M attached, left the 
banana plantation, which was on the west 
bank of a small, easily forded stream, at 
about 1500 and attacked in a northwesterly 
direction. After gaining perhaps 200 yards, 
the company was stopped in its tracks by 
heavy crossfire. It lost three killed and sev- 
eral wounded and made no further advance 
that day. 

The company had just dug itself in for 
the night when Colonel Tsukamoto at- 
tacked with several hundred fresh 144th 
Infantry replacements who had reached 
Basabua the night before and had been im- 
mediately assigned to his command. Com- 
pany L, helped by the two Australian com- 



panies, threw back the attack and inflicted 
heavy losses to the enemy. Company L alone 
claimed to have killed forty Japanese that 
night, with a further loss to itself of two 
killed and one wounded. 15 

Colonel Tomlinson had planned to con- 
tinue the attack during the afternoon of 23 
November. But with Companies I and K 
completely out of position on the left, and 
Company L on the right stopped almost as 
soon as it moved out of the plantation area, 
he had to postpone the attack until his 
flanking companies were more advantage- 
ously situated to launch it. 

The delay would be an advantage for the 
front by this time was rapidly becoming 
organized. The airstrip at Popondetta 
opened for traffic on 23 November, and a 
section of four 25-pounders of the 2/1 Aus- 
tralian Field Regiment, Maj. A. G. Hanson 
commanding, was flown in and went into 
action the same day from a point north of 
Soputa. Additional 81 -mm. mortars were 
rushed to Company L, and the available 
native carriers and troops of Company D 
began bringing out the wounded and carry- 
ing rations to the troops on both flanks. 1 " 

Companies I and K, trying to get into 
position for the attack after their slow ad- 
vance of the day before, got off to an early 
start on 23 November. Except for some 
heavy firing at daybreak, which caused 



15 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 4, 5, 23 Nov 42; Tomita 
Butai Orders, 22 Nov 42; Yokoyama Bet Orders, 
22 Nov 42. Last two in ATIS EP 29; 17th Army 
Opns I, 131; 18th Army Opns I, 20, 21. About 500 
replacements had come in from Rabaul on 21 No- 
vember. The larger portion were at once assigned 
to Colonel Tsukamoto for front-line action, and the 
rest were left in reserve to the rear of the track 
junction. 

" 126th Inf Jnl, Ser 5, 23 Nov 42; G-3 Opns 
Rpt, No. 231, 23-24 Nov 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA: NGF, Notes on Opns in New Guinea, Ser 
3; McCarthy, op. cit.,Ch. 17. 



THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA 



159 



them no casualties, the two companies met 
no interference from the enemy all day. 
Progress was steady, and by 1410 Captain 
Shirley was able to report an uninterrupted 
advance. 

Though they themselves were not too sure 
of their location, Companies I and K had 
by the following evening reached a clearing 
in the swamp to the left of the track, about 
1,200 yards north of their line of departure 
and about 1,000 west of the Killerton trail. 
The two companies, now together and in 
position to attack, settled themselves in the 
clearing for the night, preparatory to at- 
tacking eastward in the morning. After three 
sleepless nights the weary men were not as 
alert as they should have been. Japanese 
patrols approached to within a short dis- 
tance of their perimeter and suddenly sub- 
jected them to heavy crossfire. Taken com- 
pletely by surprise, the troops pulled back 
into the swamp in disorder. 

Learning of the new setback, Colonel 
Tomlinson, who had counted on finally at- 
tacking on 25 November, at once ordered 
Major Bond forward to take command of 
the two scattered companies and to attack 
on the 26th. 

On the right Company L had been mak- 
ing virtually no progress. By the evening of 
24 November, it was just where it had been 
on the evening of the 22d — on the out- 
skirts of the rice dump, about 200 yards 
from its line of departure. 

The next day, 25 November, the 25- 
pounders and the mortars gave the Japanese 
positions a thorough going over. In the proc- 
ess, however, an 81 -mm. mortar shell fell 
short and landed in the command post that 
Captain Lee was sharing with Captain 
Blarney. Blarney and one other Australian 
were killed, and Captain Lee and five 
others — Australians and Americans — were 



wounded. Captain Bosgard took over com- 
mand of the Australians in the area, and 
Maj. Bert ZeefT of the Americans. Major 
Zeeff, executive officer of the 3d Battalion, 
went forward that night from battalion 
headquarters. ZeefT reached the plantation 
area with a few men from Battalion Head- 
quarters Company at about 0100 on the 
26th. He slept in the same CP in which 
Captain Blarney had been killed. At day- 
break, after a heavy mortaring of the plan- 
tation area by the Japanese, Zeeff inspected 
the Allied position. He found the Aus- 
tralians in the center of the line, with the 
Americans in a semicircular position on left 
and right. The Australians were behind a 
heavy log breastwork, which, as Zeeff re- 
calls, was "grooved and creased" with en- 
emy fire. The attack obviously was making 
no progress, and it was clear to Zeeff that 
he would have to use some other axis of 
approach if he was to reach the track. 

Instead of trying to crash through the 
strong enemy positions forward of the plan- 
tation area, Zeeff tried a new tactic. Leaving 
part of Company L and twenty men from 
3d Battalion headquarters in place in the 
plantation area, he recrossed the stream 
with the rest of his force, about 100 men, 
sideslipped along the stream for about 600 
yards, and prepared to hit the enemy 
through the gap between Boerem's positions 
on the track and the allied right flank. 17 



17 Jnls, Cos I, K, and L, 126th Inf, 23 Nov 42, 
24 Nov 42, 25 Nov 42; 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 12, 14, 
16, 19, 23 Nov 42, Sers 4, 16, 28, 24 Nov 42, Sers 
9, 19, 25 Nov 42 ; Ltrs, Lt Col Bert Zeeff to author, 
5 Oct 50, 25 Oct 50, 11 Sep 51. Capt. Jack M. 
Blarney, a nephew of General Blarney, who had 
distinguished himself by his bravery during this 
period as well as during the fighting in the Owen 
Stanleys, was posthumously awarded the Distin- 
guished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ 
SWPAGONo. 54, 3 Dec 42. 



160 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




NATIVES WITH SUPPLIES AND AMMUNITION for the front lines taking a brief 
rest along a corduroy road. 



The long-delayed attack was now finally 
ready. The 25-pounders and the mortars 
opened up about 1300, 26 November, 
shortly after Companies I and K, under 
Major Bond, pushed off to the eastward 
toward the Killerton trail. At 1320 the artil- 
lery and mortar fire ceased. Companies C 
and D, Major Boerem's two companies, 
attacked straight north along the track, 
and Company L, with attached elements of 
Company M and battalion headquarters, 
under Major Zeeff, crossed the stream and 
pushed northwestward. 

Major Bond's eastward thrust hit stiff re- 
sistance. After several hours of indecisive 
fighting and the loss of five killed and 
twenty-three wounded, Bond's two com- 
panies consolidated about 700 yards west of 



the Killerton trail. Major Boerem's com- 
panies ran into such heavy machine gun 
and mortar fire that they were stopped 
after an advance of less than a hundred 
yards. Colonel Tomlinson, Captain Boice, 
Captain Dixon, and other members of the 
regimental staff who were observing Boe- 
rem's attack were pinned to the ground and 
managed to extricate themselves only after 
the enemy fire lifted. Zeeff did somewhat 
better. He pushed ahead for about 350 
yards before running into heavy fire from 
several hidden machine guns that killed and 
wounded several of his men. The advance, 
which had begun so promisingly, was 
brought to a complete halt. The troops be- 
gan aggressive patrolling to pinpoint the 
enemy positions, but so skillfully were they 



THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA 



161 




"FUZZY WUZZY" NATIVES carrying a mounded soldier to a first aid station in the 
rear area. 



hidden that Zceff's patrols could not at once 
locate them. Dusk came, and the troops 
dug in for the night in foxholes which im- 
mediately filled with water. 18 



18 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 1, 7, 20, 27, 33, 39, 48, 52, 
54, 56, 59, 26 Nov 42; Jnls, Cos I, K, and L, 26 
Nov 42; Jnl, Maj Boerem's Det, 26 Nov 42; Ltrs, 
Col Zeeff to author, 5 Oct 50, 25 Oct 50. Maj. 
Simon Warmcnhoven, the regimental surgeon, while 
on his way that day to Major Boerem's CP with 
other members of the regimental staff, saw a mortar 
shell land on a platoon of the 2/3 Battalion, which 
was in position immediately to Boerem's rear, killing 
five and wounding eight. Though the position was 
under heavy fire, Warmcnhoven at once went to the 
aid of the wounded Australians and stayed with 
them until all had received medical attention and 
been evacuated. Warmenhoven was later awarded 
the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in 
Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43. 



The Establishment of the Roadblock 

Early on 27 November Major Bond re- 
ported that, although everything on his 
front was at a stalemate, he was holding 
and preparing to attack. The next morn- 
ing, while Colonel Tomlinson was adding 
up his battle casualties ( which by that time 
were more than 100 killed, wounded, and 
missing), the Gannon and Antitank Com- 
panies under Captain Medendorp finally 
reached Soputa from Wairopi. The men, 
exhausted and very hungry, were given food 
and allowed to rest, their first respite in 
some time. 

Colonel Tsukamoto meanwhile con- 
tinued attacking savagely on his left, on the 
assumption apparently that the Allied 



162 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



troops on that flank presented the greatest 
threat to his position in the track junction. 
The Japanese attacked all day on 27 No- 
vember. Their pressure was directed prin- 
cipally at ZeefT, whose forward perimeter 
was now between 300 and 400 yards from 
the track, but intermittent glancing blows 
were sent also against the Australian and 
American positions in the banana planta- 
tion. The heaviest attack of the day came 
toward evening. It was beaten off with the 
help of Major Hanson's 25 -pounders and 
the excellent observation of one of Han- 
son's forward observers, Lt. A. N. T. 
Daniels, who was with ZeefT. Daniels 
switched the artillery fire from Zeeff's front 
to Bosgard's and back again to such good 
effect that the Japanese attack soon dwin- 
dled to nuisance fire only. In repelling the 
Japanese, Zeeff's troops suffered consider- 
able casualties, and the Australians in the 
plantation area, now down to about fifty 
men, lost Captain Bosgard, whose death 
came only two days after Captain Blarney's. 

Zeeff had meanwhile been joined by sev- 
enty men from Major Boerem's detach- 
ment — thirty-seven men from Company C 
and thirty-three from Company D. Still 
facing the task of cleaning out the Japanese 
immediately to their front, the group spent 
the day of the 28th in patrolling and lo- 
cating the hidden enemy positions. One of 
Zeeff's platoon leaders, 1st Lt. Henry M. 
Crouch, Jr., accompanied by Lieutenant 
Daniels, stalked and ambushed a party of 
eight Japanese. In a particularly daring 
foray, Sgt. Robert R. McGee of Company 
L led the patrol that located the main 
enemy position standing in the way of the 
advance and helped to wipe it out. The next 
day, rations, ammunition, and hand gre- 
nades were brought forward and distributed 
to the troops. Zeeff was ready to push for- 



ward again. His orders were to move north- 
west to make contact with the troops on the 
left flank, who, he was told, would try to 
hit the Soputa-Sanananda track the next 
day. 19 

General Vasey had hoped to open up a 
new front for his Australians by having them 
cut over from the Killerton trail to the 
Soputa-Sanananda track at a point well to 
the north of the area in which the Ameri- 
cans were operating. On 28 November, on 
the very eve of the American attack, he 
learned that the plan was impracticable. 
Strong Australian patrols sent out on 24 
and 26 November reported that the inter- 
vening swamp barred access from one track 
to the other that far north. The farthest 
north the crossing could be made, General 
Vasey was told, was where the Americans 
were about to make it. The Americans, in 
short, had stumbled upon exactly the right 
spot to make the envelopment, and the en- 
velopment was ready to go. 

The main effort was to be on the left. 
On 29 November Colonel Tomlinson or- 
dered Major Baetcke, his executive officer, 
to proceed to Major Bond's position on the 
left flank and take command of the troops 
there. These troops now included Com- 
panies I and K, elements of Company M 
and 3d Battalion headquarters, and the 
Cannon and Antitank Companies. The last 
two units had moved up from Soputa and 
taken up a position on Bond's rear. Baetcke's 
instructions were to attack eastward on 30 
November and, in concert with a further 
frontal attack by Major Boerem, and an 

10 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 19, 24, 27 Nov 42, Sers 2, 
13, 28 Nov 42; Jnl, Go L, 126th Inf, 27-30 Nov 
42; Ltrs, Col Zeeff to author, 5 Oct 50, 25 Oct 50; 
Interv with Col Baetcke, 18 Nov 50. Sergeant 
McGee was later awarded the Distinguished Service 
Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 32, 
15 Jun 43. 



THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA 



163 



attack on the right by Major ZeefT, to es- 
tablish a roadblock to the rear of the main 
enemy position in the track junction. 

Baetcke reached Bond's position late on 
the morning of 29 November. He was ac- 
companied by 1st Lt. Peter L. Dal Ponte, 
commanding officer of the Service Com- 
pany, whom he had chosen to be his assist- 
ant. As nearly as could be made out, Bond's 
position to the west of both the Cape Killer- 
ton trail and the Soputa-Sanananda track 
lay about 700 yards from the one and 1,600 
yards from the other. Baetcke quickly 
worked out a plan of attack. The line of 
departure was to be about 200 yards north- 
east of Bond's main position and about 500 
west of the Killerton trail. At the prescribed 
time the troops would attack straight east 
and move astride the Soputa— Sanananda 
track 1 ,400 yards away. 

The units in assault would be under com- 
mand of Major Bond, who was to be ac- 
companied by Lieutenant Daniels. The at- 
tacking force of 265 men was to include 
Company I under Captain Shirley, the Anti- 
tank Company under its commanding offi- 
cer, Capt. Roger Keast, a light machine gun 
section of Company M, and a communica- 
tions detachment from 3d Battalion head- 
quarters. Company K and the Cannon 
Company, both under command of Cap- 
tain Medendorp, were to be in support. Led 
by Lieutenant Lytle, Company K would 
take up a position behind the line of de- 
parture and execute a holding attack by 
fire. The Cannon Company, under its com- 
mander, 1st Lt. John L. Fenton, would 
remain in reserve to the rear of Company 
K and would come to its aid should it come 
under enemy attack. 

Early on the morning of 30 November 
the 1 26th Infantry attacked the Japanese on 
the right, in the center, and on the left. The 



attack on the right by Company L met no 
opposition for about 150 yards but was then 
brought to a complete halt by a strong Jap- 
anese force that Colonel Tsukamoto had 
deployed there for just that purpose. Com- 
panies C and D in the center did not do as 
well and gained only a few yards. The real 
success of the day was registered on the left. 

Major Bond's force left the line of de- 
parture at 0900, after a ten-minute artillery 
and mortar preparation. It moved in col- 
umn of companies, Company I leading. The. 
supporting fire of Company K proved very 
effective and drew strong, retaliatory fire 
from the enemy. At first the troops had no 
trouble dealing with the enemy to the front. 
About four hundred yards beyond the line 
of departure, as they started moving through 
a large kunai patch, they were met from 
virtually all sides by hostile rifle, mortar, and 
machine gun fire. Major Bond was wounded 
about 0930 and had to be evacuated. The 
attack lost its momentum and for a time 
bogged down completely. Learning of the 
difficulty, Major Baetcke came up from the 
rear, rallied the troops, and, leading the way, 
cleared the enemy out of the kunai flat. Cap- 
tain Shirley took command and the attack 
continued. 

After eliminating the resistance on the 
kunai flat, the troops fought several minor 
skirmishes with small parties of the enemy 
who seemed to be patrolling the area. About 
a thousand yards out, they ran into jungle 
and swamp terrain more difficult than any- 
thing they had previously encountered. The 
undergrowth in the jungle was almost im- 
penetrable, but the real difficulty came when 
the men reached a 300-yard stretch of knee- 
deep swamp. The Japanese, who had cut fire 
lanes commanding the swamp, temporarily 
stopped Captain Shirley's troops with knee- 
mortar and machine gun fire just as they 



164 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



were trying to clear it. Shirley's men finally 
succeeded in crossing the swamp and dis- 
persing the enemy. A little way out of the 
swamp the troops came upon a well-traveled 
trail leading generally eastward and fol- 
lowed it. At 1700 Company I's scouts re- 
ported an enemy bivouac area directly 
ahead. 20 What followed is best told by one 
who was present. 

At this point Captain Shirley ordered his 
Company I, deployed with two platoons 
abreast and supporting platoon following in 
center rear, to insert bayonets and assault the 
. . . enemy position (endeavoring to get his 
objective prior to darkness). The attack was 
well executed and successful. Captain Shirley, 
after driving the enemy from this position, 
organized perimeter defense by emplacing his 
rifle platoons of Company I west of the road; 
1 LMG Squad, Company M, near the road 
on the northern portion of the perimeter; and 
1 LMG Squad, Company M, on the southern 
portion of the perimeter. AT Company had 
been [deployed] east of the road. The perim- 
eter was in and established by about . . . 
1830. . . . About two hours later we were 
getting heavy mortar fire in the perimeter and 
later attacks from the northeast on the AT 
Company's sector, and subsequently from the 
northwest on Company I's sector. Both were 
repulsed with few casualties. 21 

In storming the bivouac area, the Shir- 
ley force had killed a score of Japanese; it 
had captured two disabled Ford trucks, a 
variety of auto repair tools, a little food, and 



M 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 16, 21, 29 Nov 42, Sers 6, 8, 
9, 12, 13, 30, 31, 35, 37, 38, 30 Nov 42: Jnls, Cos I, 
K, and L, 126th Inf, 29 and 30 Nov 42; Col 
Baetcke, Notes on the American Force on the 
Sanananda Trail, 25 May 43 : Memo, Maj Peter L. 
Dal Ponte for author, 12 Jul 50; McCarthy, op. cit., 
Ch. 17. For his action in rallying and leading the 
troops On the kunai flat, Major Baetcke was later 
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The cita- 
tion is in Hq, USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43. 

" Memo, Maj Dal Ponte for author, 12 Jul 50. 



some medical supplies; most important of 
all, it had gained its objective. The captured 
bivouac area, a comparatively open, oval- 
shaped space about 250 yards long and 150 
yards wide, lay astride the track 1,500 yards 
to the north of the track junction and ap- 
proximately 300 south of the Japanese sec- 
ond line of defense higher up on the track. 
The long-sought roadblock, to the rear of 
the Japanese positions in the track junction, 
had finally been established. 2 " 

Zeeff's Recall 

Now that the Shirley force had cut 
through the Japanese line and established 
itself on the track, it remained to be seen 
whether the Zeeff force, now only a few 
hundred yards south of it, could link up 
with Shirley. Held up on 30 November 
while Shirley was moving steadily to his 
goal, Major Zeeff experienced no difficulty 
moving forward the next day. His men ad- 
vanced northwest in order to join Shirley 
in the roadblock. The Japanese, apparently 
diverted from the threat on their left by the 
new threat on their rear, had relaxed their 
pressure, and Zeeff's force moved steadily 
ahead. 

Early that afternoon Zeeff's troops crossed 
the track and, moving to a point about 250 
yards west of it, surprised and wiped out a 
party of thirty-five to forty Japanese. 
Zeeff reported the skirmish to Colonel Tom- 



22 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 62, 69, 73, 74, 75, 76, 30 
Nov 42 ; Jnls, Cos I and K, 126th Inf, 30 Nov 42; 
Col Baetcke, Notes on the American Force on the 
Sanananda Trail, 25 May 43 ; Ltr, Col Baetcke to 
ACofS, G-3, SWPA, 9 Jul 43, Statement on the 
Soputa — Sanananda (Huggins) Roadblock, in G-3 
Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Memo, Maj Dal Ponte for 
author, 12 Jul 50; Interv with Col Baetcke, 17 
Nov 50. 



THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA 



165 



linson at 1515 and, told him that he 
thought his troops had crossed the track. 
To prevent enemy interception of the mes- 
sage Zeeff spoke in Dutch, a language fa- 
miliar to many of the Michigan troops 
present, and a Dutch-speaking sergeant at 
headquarters interpreted for Colonel 
Tomlinson. 

Zeeff dug in at 1625 on Tomlinson's or- 
ders. Within the hour the Japanese struck 
from right and front. After a brisk fire fight 
in which Zeeff lost two killed and three 
wounded, the enemy withdrew. At 2100 
Colonel Tomlinson ordered Zeeff to move 
back to the east side of the road as soon as 
he could and to push northward from there 
to make the desired juncture with the troops 
in the roadblock. At that point the wire 
went dead, and Zeeff was on his own. 

The troops fashioned stretchers for the 
wounded from saplings, telephone wire, 
and denim jackets, and the next morning 
began moving from their night perimeter on 
a northeasterly course to recross the track 
as ordered. Their withdrawal was no easy 
task. The enemy kept up a steady fire, and 
it was here that Pvt. Hymie Y. Epstein, one 
of Zeeff 's last medical aid men, was killed. 
Epstein had distinguished himself on 22 
November by crawling to the aid of a 
wounded man in an area swept by enemy 
fire. He had done the same thing on 1 
December. This is the scene on the after- 
noon of the 1 st, as Zeeff recalled it : 

I was prone with a filled musette bag in 
front of my face; Epstein was in a similar 
position about 4 or 5 feet to my left. Pvt. Sulli- 
van was shot through the neck and was lying 
about 10 feet from me to my right front. 
Epstein said, "I have to take care of him." I 
said, "I'm not ordering you to go, the fire is 
too heavy." [Despite this], he crawled on his 
stomach, treated and bandaged Sullivan, then 
crawled back. A few minutes later, Sgt. Bur- 



nett . . . was shot in the head, lying a few 
feet from Sullivan. Epstein did the same for 
Burnett, and managed to crawl back without 
being hit. 

Epstein's luck did not hold. To quote 
Zeeff again : "The next morning just before 
daybreak, Pvt. Mike Russin on our left flank 
was hit by a sniper. Epstein went to him, . . . 
but did not return as he was shot and killed 
there. We buried him before moving 
out . . . ." 23 

Toward evening, while the troops were 
digging in for the night at a new perimeter 
a few yards east of the track and about 500 
south of the roadblock, Sergeant McGee, 
whom Zeeff had sent out to reconnoiter the 
area immediately to the northward, came 
back with discouraging news. Strong and 
well-manned enemy positions, beyond the 
power of the Zeeff force to breach, lay a 
couple of hundred yards ahead. Zeeff had 
scarcely had time to digest the news when 
the Japanese were upon him again. After a 
wild spate of firing, the attack was finally 
beaten off at a cost to Zeeff of five killed and 
six seriously wounded. 

By this time Colonel Tomlinson was sat- 
isfied that Zeeff could neither maintain him- 
self where he was nor break through to the 
roadblock. His perimeter was directly in the 
line of Allied fire, and there was no alter- 
native but to get him out of there as quickly 
as possible before he was hit by friendly fire 
or cut to pieces by the enemy. The wire had 
been repaired, and at 2000 that night Tom- 
linson ordered Zeeff to leave the area im- 
mediately, warning him that it was to be 
mortared the next day. Zeeff was to bring 



2J Ltr, Col Zeeff to author, 11 Sep 51. Private 
Epstein was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. 
The citation is in Hq, 326 Div GO No. 28, 6 Apr 43. 



166 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




MAKING LITTERS FOR THE WOUNDED 



back his sick and wounded but was not to 
bother burying the dead. 

The job of making litters for the six 
newly wounded began at once and went on 
through the night. Saplings were cut and 
stretchers made. By 0330 the stretchers were 
loaded and the march began. Walking in 
single column, and guiding themselves in 
the dark with telephone wire, the troops 
moved south for about 900 yards and then 
turned east toward the familiar little stream 
that flowed past the banana plantation. 

The terrain was swampy, and the march 
slow. The men were spent and hungry, and 
eight soldiers had to be assigned to each 
stretcher. Four would carry it for fifty yards, 
and then the other four would take over. 



Two of the stretchers broke down en route, 
and the troops struggled forward with the 
two wounded men as best thev could. 
Shortly after daybreak the procession 
reached the stream, where Captain Dixon 
was waiting with stretchers and stretcher 
bearers. The wounded were attended to im- 
mediately, and the rest of the troops, most 
of whom had been eleven days in combat, 
returned to regimental headquarters and 
were allowed to rest. 

Zeeff had not accomplished his mission, 
but he and his troops had done something 
that in retrospect was electrifying. They had 
threaded their way through the main Japa- 
nese position on the track, manned by some 
2,000 enemy troops, and had come out in 



THE OPENING BLOWS IN GENERAL VASEY'S AREA 



167 



good order, bringing their wounded with 
them. 24 

The Ensuing Tasks 

General Vasey had by now lost all hope 
of an early decision on the Soputa— Sanan- 
anda track. He simply did not have enough 
troops to secure such a decision. The 16th 
Brigade had less than 900 effectives left and 
was wasting away so rapidly from malaria 
and other sicknesses that there was no longer 
any question of assigning it any further of- 
fensive mission, especially if the mission was 
of a sustained nature as any offensive thrust 

M Jnl, Co L, 126th Inf, 1-3 Dec 42; 126th Inf 
Jnl, Sers 18, 19, 27, 31, 1 Dec 42, Scrs 5, 23, 2 
Dec 42, Sers 1, 4, 3 Dec 42; Ltrs, Col Zeeff to 
author, 25 Oct 50, 11 Sep 51; Ltr, Col Tomlinson 
to author, 28 Nov 50. 



on the track was likely to be. All that the 
brigade was now in condition to do was 
hold. If not relieved in the near future, it 
would soon be unable to do even that. 23 

The weight of the attack would therefore 
have to continue on the Americans. But 
they too were beginning to sicken with 
malaria, and their effective strength was 
between 1,100 and 1,200 men, not the 1,400 
it had been on 22 November when they had 
first been committed to action. This was 
scarcely a force sufficient to reduce a posi- 
tion as strong as that held by Colonel 
Tsukamoto, especially since the later ac- 
tually had more men manning his powerful 
defense line than the Allies had available to 
attack it. 



25 McCarthy, op. eit., Ch. 17. 



CHAPTER X 



The First Two Weeks at Buna 



On 16 November the troops east of the 
Girua River started for the positions from 
which they were to attack the enemy in the 
Cape Endaiadere-New Strip area. {See 



Map V.) The 128th Infantry moved out 
to the attack in early morning. Colonel 
McCoy's 1st Battalion (less Company A 
which was still at Pongani) advanced up 
the coast from Embogo, crossed the Sam- 
boga River, and by nightfall was in posi- 
tion at Boreo, a creek mouth about a mile 
north of Hariko where General MacNider 
now had his headquarters. Colonel Miller's 
3d Battalion, with Colonel Smith's 2d Bat- 
talion marching immediately behind it, 
moved up from Warisota Plantation — three 
miles west of Embogo — and Embi, scattered 
a small Japanese patrol at Dobodura that 
afternoon, and started for Simemi, its 
jump-off point for the attack on the bridge 
between the strips. The troops still at Pon- 
gani — Company A, 128th Infantry, Com- 
pany A, 1 14th Engineer Battalion, Colonel 
Carrier's 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry, and 
Major Harcourt's 2/6 Australian Independ- 
ent Company — were to leave for the front 
the next day, in the same luggers which 
were bringing forward the supplies. Artil- 
lery was already in place. Using a Japanese 
barge captured at Milne Bay, General Wal- 
dron, the division artillery officer, had come 
in during the night with the two Australian 
3.7-inch mountain howitzers allotted to the 
operation, their crews, and 200 rounds of 



ammunition. Waldron had left before day- 
break for Oro Bay to pick up the 25 -pound- 
ers that were waiting there. His executive 
officer, Lt. Col. Melvin McCreary, who had 
been put ashore at Hariko with the two 
mountain guns, had them assembled and 
ready to fire from an advanced position at 
Boreo that evening. 1 

General Harding Readjusts His Plans 

The Disruption of the Supply Line 

It was clear as the advance got under way 
that the 32d Division's weakest point was 
its supply line. Until an airfield was com- 
pleted at Dobodura the division's supply, ex- 
cept for emergency dropping from the air, 
would be entirely dependent upon the six 
remaining luggers or trawlers with which 
Colonel McKenny was carrying supplies up 
the coast from Porlock Harbor, as well as 
upon the Japanese barge General Waldron 
was using to bring in the 25-pounders from 
Oro Bay. The boats had thus far not been 
interfered with by the enemy, but Japanese 
naval aviation at Lae had marked the Al- 
lied coastal movements well, and struck the 
very day the advance began. 



1 128th Inf Jnl, Scr 70, 17 Nov 42; 3d Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, 17 Nov 42; 32d Div Hist of Arty, Papuan 
Campaign ; Ltr, Gen Waldron to Gen Ward, 5 Mar 
51. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



169 



In the late afternoon of 16 November 
three of Colonel McKenny's luggers — the 
Alacrity, the Bonwin, and the Minne- 
mura — joined by the Japanese landing 
barge, which had just come in from Oro 
Bay, left Embogo for Hariko. The Alacrity 
was carrying ammunition, and the equip- 
ment and personnel of the 22d Portable 
Hospital. The Bonwin was loaded with ra- 
tions and ammunition, and the Minnemura, 
largest of the three luggers, held ammuni- 
tion, rations, radio supplies, 81 -mm. mor- 
tars, .50-caliber machine guns, and other 
heavy equipment not easily carried by the 
troops. The Japanese barge, also heavily 
laden, carried two 25-pounders, their crews, 
and all the 25-pounder ammunition for 
which space could be found. General Wal- 
dron and Col. H. F. Handy, an Army 
Ground Forces observer, were on the barge. 
General Harding, who was on his way to the 
front, was on the Minnemura, as was an- 
other AGF observer, Col. Herbert B. Laux. 

The luggers and barge, protected only by 
machine guns mounted on their decks, were 
proceeding without air cover. Though it 
was still light, Allied fighter aircraft patrol- 
ling the coast had left for Port Moresby 
some time before in order to get back to their 
bases before dark. While the boats were 
rounding Cape Sudest, and a small lighter 
from the shore was off-loading ammunition 
from the Alacrity, which had stopped mo- 
mentarily for that purpose, the flotilla was 
attacked by eighteen Japanese Zero-type 
fighters that appeared without warning 
from the northwest. The enemy planes gave 
the ships a thorough strafing. The troops 
aboard replied with machine guns and 
rifles but their fire was entirely without ef- 
fect. In a few moments the barge and all 
three luggers were ablaze. The ammunition 
began to explode and all aboard had to take 



to the water. General Harding, General 
Waldron, and Colonel Handy swam ashore. 
Colonel Laux, who was no swimmer, got 
there safely in a dinghy which had been 
riding behind the Minnemura. 

The luggers, the Japanese barge, and 
virtually all of the cargo they were carrying 
were a total loss. The lighter that had been 
loading ammunition from the Alacrity 
reached shore under fire. At great personal 
risk 1st Lt. John E. Harbert, a divisional 
ordnance officer, went aboard and took off 
the ammunition. Casualties were heavy. 
Colonel McKenny and twenty-three others 
were killed, and there were many wounded. 
The loss of life would have been even greater 
but for a number of daring rescues from the 
shore. Braving the enemy fire, the exploding 
ammunition, and the flaming debris, rescue 
parties under Colonel Carew, commanding 
officer of the 1 14th Engineer Battalion, and 
1st Lt. Herbert G. Peabody, of Division 
Headquarters Company, saved the lives of 
many who might otherwise have drowned 
or burned to death. 2 

The next morning, in attacks which took 
place before the air force could intervene, 
four Zeros hit two of the remaining three 
luggers, one at Embogo, and the other at 
Mendaropu. The first lugger, the Two 
Freddies, v/as badly smashed up and had to 
limp back to Milne Bay for repairs; the 

2 Maj Parker's Buna Rpt; Col Handy's Buna Rpt: 
Gen Harding's Diary, 16 Nov 42. Colonel Carew 
and Lieutenants Harbert and Peabody were later 
awarded the. Distinguished Service Cross, as 
were the following enlisted men who participated 
in the rescues: S. Sgt. John R. MacGowan, Sgt. 
Howard J. Weiss, Cpl. Gordon C. Snyder, Pfc. 
Donald R. Price, Pvt. Maro P. Johnson, Pvt. Homer 
McAllister, and Pvt. Cloyd G. Myers. Price, John- 
son and McAllister were from the 107th QM Bat- 
talion: the others were from Headquarters Com- 
pany and Companies I and H, 128th Infantry. The 
citations are in GHQ SWPA GO No. 64, 28 Dec 
42, and GO No. 1, 1 Jan 43. 



170 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




second lugger, the Willyama suffered even 
greater damage and had to be beached, a 
total loss. Only one small lugger, the Kelton, 
was left to supply the troops east of the 
river. 

The loss of the boats was a catastrophe of 
the first magnitude. There were no replace- 
ment vessels immediately in sight, and ar- 
tillery pieces, mortars, machine guns, and 
other essential materiel, which could not be 
replaced for days, had been lost on the very 
eve of the attack. The whole supply plan 
for the operation had been disrupted. Since 
the stores of rations and ammunition ac- 



tually at the front where the troops could 
use them were in dangerously short supply, 
and the one small remaining lugger could 
not possibly handle more than a small frac- 
tion of the division's immediate require- 
ments, Maj. Ralph T. Birkness, Colonel 
McKenny's successor, then at Port Moresby, 
at once arranged with the air force to have 
the most critically needed items dropped 
from the air. 3 

3 Msg, Gen MacNider to Gen Harding, Ser 769, 
17 Nov 42; Msg, Col John W. Mott, CofS 32d 
Div, to Gen MacNider, Ser 787, 17 Nov 42; Msg, 
Gen Harding to Maj Ralph T. Birkness, Moresby, 
Ser 844, 18 Nov 42. All in 32d Div, G-2, G-3 Jnl. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



171 




GENERAL WALDRON (center, facing forward) discusses plans for the impending battle. 
15 November 1942. 



The dislocation caused by the loss of boats 
and cargo on 16 and 17 November forced 
General Harding to make some last-minute 
changes in plan. General MacNider was or- 
dered to hold up his advance until the Kel- 
ton could come in and make up at least part 
of his supply deficiencies, and the troops at 
Pongani who were to have been moved to 
Embogo by boat were ordered instead to 
proceed to the front on foot. Except for the 
engineer company which was sent to Dobo- 
dura, the troops were ordered to Boreo 
where they were to join with Colonel Mc- 



Coy's battalion in the attack toward Cape 
Endaiadere. 4 

Colonel Smith Is Ordered to the Left 

On 18 November, with the 1st and 3d 
Battalions, 128th Infantry, in position at 
Boreo and Simemi respectively, General 
Harding set H Hour as 0700 the following 



4 Msg, Col Mott to Maj Harry G. Harcourt, 2/6 
Aust Ind Co, Ser 791, 17 Nov 42; Msg, Gen Hard- 
ing to Col Mott, Ser 848, 18 Nov 42. Both in 32d 
Div G-2, G-3 Jnl ; Gen Harding's Diary, 17 Nov 42. 



128TH INFANTRYMEN. Above, .30-cal. Browning machine gun position in 1st Battalion 
area, Embogo River; below, four men from the 2d Battalion cook breakfast near the beach at 
Embogo. 




174 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



morning, 19 November. Three companies of 
the 2d Battalion, 128th Infantry, which 
were to be in division reserve, were ordered 
from Dobodura to Ango in order to cover 
the junction of the Soputa-Buna and Ango— 
Dobodura tracks until such time as the 1 26th 
Infantry could come in and take over the 
left-flank attack on Buna Village and Buna 
Mission. The remaining company, joined by 
the engineer company when it came in from 
Pongani, was to remain at Dobodura to help 
prepare an airfield there. 

The diversion next day to General Vasey's 
command of the 126th Infantry, even as it 
was marching from Inonda toward Buna 
to attack on Harding's left, upset these plans. 
Robbed at the last minute of his left-flank 
force, General Harding had to commit his 
reserve, the 2d Battalion, 128th Infantry. In 
ordering Colonel Smith to take Buna, Gen- 
eral Harding was well aware that he was 
sending a battalion to do a job to which a 
full regiment had previously been assigned. 
He had no other force available, however, 
and sent Smith forward anyway, hoping ap- 
parently that he might, with luck, do the job. 
The company at Dobodura was immediately 
ordered to Ango, and the battalion moved 
out on the 20th with orders to attack Buna 
Mission. 5 

The Battle Opens 
The Attacks on the Right 

Torrential rains that lasted all day began 
early on 19 November, the day of the at- 



tack. The troops were drenched to the skin, 
and all aircraft were grounded. At 0700, 
after the two mountain guns fired a few un- 
observed rounds, the 1st Battalion, 128th 
Infantry, under Colonel McCoy, moved 
forward from Boreo, and the 3d Battalion, 
128th Infantry, under Colonel Miller, 
marched out from Simemi. Because of the 
supply dislocation, the men had only one 
day's rations with them, and only as much 
ammunition as was immediately avail- 
able — little more than a day's supply. 

Colonel McCoy's troops, in column of 
companies, with Company C leading, 
crossed the creek mouth near Boreo, and 
began moving along a narrow, muddy path 
in the jungle about twenty yards inland. 
Their objective was Cape Endaiadere, two 
miles away. 

Colonel Yamamoto was ready. He had 
had two full days to get his fresh, well- 
armed 144th and 229th Infantry troops into 
position. His main line of resistance, be- 
tween 750 and 800 yards south of Cape 
Endaiadere, ran from the sea through the 
Duropa Plantation to the eastern end of the 
New Strip and past it to the bridge between 
the strips. (Map 9) At the immediate ap- 



"Msgs, Gen Harding to Col Mott, Ser 848, 18 
Nov 42, Ser 964, 19 Nov 42; Msgs, Gen Harding to 
NGF, Sers 967, 968, 20 Nov 42. All in 32d Div 
G-2, G-3 Jnl. 32d Div Sitrcps No. 52, 18 Nov 42, 
No. 53, 19 Nov 42, No. 54, 20 Nov 42: Gen Hard- 
ing's Diary, 18, 19 Nov 42. 



proaches to this well-built and strongly held 
defense system he had an outpost line of 
emplacements. Although not continuous 
like the main line, it was very strong because 
of its cleared fields of fire. It was covered 
by troops who manned concealed and clev- 
erly disposed machine gun nests along the 
track at the lower (southern) end of the 
Duropa Plantation, and in the plantation 
itself. 

The 1st Battalion made its first enemy 
contact halfway between Boreo and the 
plantation. It was met by heavy machine 
gun and rifle fire from hidden enemy ma- 




JAPANESE DEFENSES AT BUNA. Reproduction of original pkotomap from Report of 
the Commanding General Buna Forces in the Buna Campaign. December I, 1942 -January 
25, 1943. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



175 



chine gun positions west of the track. The 
troops deployed and attacked, but the heavy 
overhead jungle growth made it difficult 
for them to use their mortars effectively and 
their grenades were of little use because they 
did not know where the enemy was or 
where the fire was coming from. The Japa- 
nese weapons gave off no flash, and the 
reverberation of their fire in the jungle made 
it impossible to ascertain their whereabouts 
by sound. To complicate matters, the Japa- 
nese made it a practice to rotate their wea- 
pons among several hidden positions, caus- 
ing the inexperienced Americans, until they 
saw through the trick, to imagine them- 
selves covered by automatic weapons from 
all sides." 

Maj. David B. Parker, an engineer ob- 
server who was present wrote: 

The first opposition from the enemy here 
was a surprise and shock to our green troops. 
The enemy positions were amazingly well 
camouflaged, and seemed to have excellent 
fields of fire even in the close quarters of the 
jungle. . . . Snipers were everywhere, . . . 
and they were so well camouflaged that it was 
nearly impossible to discern them. The enemy 
habitually allowed our troops to advance to 
very close range — sometimes four or five feet 
from a machine gun post — before opening 
fire ; often they allowed troops to by-pass them 
completely, opening fire then on our rear ele- 
ments, and on our front elements from the 
rear. 

Major Parker was particularly impressed 
by "the deadly accuracy and strength of the 



"Maj Parker's Buna Rpt ; Capt E. Khail, S-2, 
128th Inf, to Col Hale, CO, 128th Inf, 28 Nov 42, 
sub: Japanese Tactics, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl ; 
Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 19 Nov 51. It should 
be noted here that the map then in use on the 
front, the Buna Target Plan No, 24, was later found 
to be inaccurate. Its inaccuracy led to errors in the 
daily situation reports of the forces engaged. 



enemy machine gun and rifle fire from their 
camouflaged positions." He added: 

. . . Our troops were pinned down every- 
where by extremely effective fire. It was dan- 
gerous to show even a finger from behind one's 
cover, as it would immediately draw a burst 
of fire. It was impossible to see where the en- 
emy fire was coming from; consequently our 
own rifle and machine gun [fire] was ineffec- 
tive during the early stages. . . . Grenades 
and mortars . . . were difficult to use be- 
cause, first, it was difficult to pick out a nest 
position to advance upon with grenades, sec- 
ond, the thick jungle growth, and high grass, 
made throwing and firing difficult, and, third, 
because it was nearly impossible to observe our 
fire. 7 

Yielding a dozen or so yards at a time 
when strongly pressed, the Japanese cover- 
ing troops gradually fell back. Out of ra- 
tions, and with the greater part of its ammu- 
nition used up, the 1st Battalion ended the 
day a badly shaken outfit. The troops had 
entered the battle joking and laughing, and 
sure of an easy victory. Now they were 
dazed and taken aback by the mauling they 
had received at the hands of the Japanese. 
Nor did it escape them that the bodies of 
the few Japanese left on the field were those 
of fresh, well-fed, well-armed troops — not, 
as they had been led to expect, the tired, 
emaciated, and disease-ridden survivors of 
the fighting in the Owen Stanleys. It was to 
be some time before they and their fellows 
recovered from the shock of finding that 
the battle was to be no pushover and that, 



T Maj Parker's Buna Rpt. During this attack, T/5 
Edwin C. De Rosier, a medical aid man from the 
107th Medical Detachment, moved out into the 
open in the face of intense enemy fire and repeat- 
edly went to the aid of the wounded, saving the lives 
of several. Killed in action two weeks later, De 
Rosier was posthumously awarded the Distinguished 
Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ SWPA 
GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43. 



176 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



instead of a short and easy mop-up, a long 
cruel fight lay ahead of them. 8 

Colonel Miller's troops had an even ruder 
awakening. As the 3d Battalion approached 
the trail junction between the Old and 
New Strips, the Simemi trail degenerated 
into a narrow causeway with swamp on 
either side. Attempts to get the troops 
through an open area about 300 yards south 
of the junction were met by such intense fire 
from the western end of the New Strip, 
from behind the bridge between the strips, 
and from machine guns forward of the 
junction itself that no further advance was 
possible that day. 

Nor could Miller do much to blast out 
the enemy with fire. He had no 81 -mm. 
mortars; a large percentage of his grenades 
failed to go off; his .30-caliber ammunition 
ran dangerously low, and he had to call for 
a fresh supply to be dropped to him from 
the air. 9 A member of the regimental staff 
recalled the situation in the following 
words : 

Miller had to attack through swamps which 
were sometimes waist and chest deep, and 
through which it was impossible to carry any 
but light weapons. Here too, grenades (Mills 
bombs obtained from the Australians) became 
ineffective when wet. One of Miller's patrols 
threw seven grenades into a group of ten or 



" Msgs, Gen MacNider to Gen Harding, Nos. 946, 
976, 977, 19 Nov 42, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 1st 
Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 10, 12, 19 Nov 42; Memo, 
Col Reeder, WDGS, for Col Ritchie, Chief, South- 
west Pacific Gp, OPD, WDGS, 22 Feb 43, sub: 
Observer Interrogation of Officers at Buna and 
Sanananda; Col Hale, Answers to Questions by the 
Hist Sec SWPA As to Certain Phases of the Papuan 
Campaign. An Australian journalist who was pres- 
ent describes the scene thus: ". . . [The Ameri- 
cans] went into action laughing. . . . There was 
bad psychology somewhere." George H. Johnson, 
Pacific Partner (New York, 1944), p. 203. 

8 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 1250, 1333, 1650, 19 
Nov 42 ; Msg, Gen Harding to Maj Birkness, No. 
936, 19 Nov 42, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. 



twelve Japs whom they stalked only to have 
all the grenades fail to explode and to suffer 
about 30 percent casualties from return gren- 
ade fire. 10 

At the end of the day, Miller's troops were 
still at the edge of the clearing south of the 
junction. The battalion had suffered heavy 
casualties, and made no further gain. As 
Colonel Miller himself put the matter 
late that afternoon, it had been "stopped 
cold." 11 

Pinned down on a narrow front, out of 
rations, and with nearly all the ammunition 
expended, Miller's troops made no progress 
whatever the next day. They were fortunate 
that Colonel Yamamoto did not counter- 
attack. 

McCoy, better supplied with ammuni- 
tion, resumed his attack on the 20th. After 
a sketchy preparation which included some 
unobserved fire from the mountain guns 
and a brief bombardment of the Cape En- 
daiadere area by a few B-25's and A-20's, 
the battalion attacked from a point about 
1,800 yards south of the cape. Company C 
was on the right, along the coast; Com- 
pany B was on the left, a short distance in- 
land. The enemy was as w r ell hidden and as 
well prepared as before, but the Americans 
had a better idea by this time what they 
were about. Led by 1st Lt. John W. Crow, 
who was reported missing in action that 
afternoon, Company C succeeded in infil- 
trating and knocking out several enemy ma- 
chine gun nests. The line moved forward 
several hundred yards — as far as it was to 
go that day." 

10 Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 15 Nov 49. 

11 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1715, 19 Nov 42. 

" 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 1, 7, 11, 20 Nov 42 ', 
Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 15 Nov 49. Lieutenant 
Crow, last seen charging an enemy machine gun 
post, submachine gun in hand, was posthumously 
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The cita- 
tion is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



177 



Rations and ammunition had been 
dropped at Hariko and Simemi that morn- 
ing and by late afternoon had been dis- 
tributed to both McCoy and Miller. In the 
evening, Colonel Carrier's battalion and 
Major Harcourt's Independent Company 
reached the 1st Battalion's front and went 
into bivouac immediately to McCoy's rear. 
The incoming troops, who arrived at the 
front exhausted after a twenty-five mile 
march from Pongani with full pack, were 
to join McCoy's battalion in a further at- 
tack on Cape Endaiadere in the morning. 13 

The attack of 21 November was to be 
in greater strength, better supported, and 
better supplied than the efforts of 19 and 
20 November. The plan of attack called 
for McCoy's and Carrier's battalions (the 
128th Infantry troops on the right, and 
those of the 126th Infantry on the left) to 
move north on Cape Endaiadere on a 
300-yard front. While the attack was pro- 
ceeding along the coast, the 2/6 Independ- 
ent Company would infiltrate the eastern 
end of the New Strip, and the 3d Battalion, 
128th Infantry, from its position astride the 
Dobodura— Simemi track, would attempt 
to seize the bridge between the strips. The 
attack would be preceded by a heavy air 
bombardment, following which the troops 
would attack. The time of the attack would 
be communicated to the battalion com- 
manders as soon as it was definitely learned 
from the air force when the bombers would 
come over. 

The air attack, executed by A-20's and 
B-25's, took place at the appointed time, 
and a few enemy machine gun nests were 
knocked out from the air. However, no 



13 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 331, 332, 20 Nov 
42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 19, 20, 20 Nov 42. 



ground attack followed the bombardment. 
Because of faulty co-ordination — appar- 
ently an oversight on the part of regimental 
headquarters — neither Colonel McCoy nor 
Colonel Miller received prior notice of the 
bombardment or, for that matter, orders 
telling them when to attack. Worse still, 
one of the planes, instead of dropping its 
bombs on the Japanese, dropped them on 
some of Colonel Miller's forward troops, 
killing four and wounded two others. 
Orders from regiment calling for an attack 
at 0800 were finally received by Colonel 
Miller at 0840, and by Colonel McCoy at 
0850 — forty and fifty minutes, respectively, 
after the air bombardment had ceased. 

General Harding arranged to have the 
air force attack again at 1245. The air 
attack was to be followed by an artillery and 
mortar barrage, and the troops would jump 
off at 1300. 

This time, no planes showed up for the 
attack. Fearing that it would not be able 
to complete the attack within the appointed 
time the air force had held its planes back 
rather than run the risk of again hitting 
friendly troops. 14 

Determined that there would be an at- 
tack that day, General Harding got the air 
force to try again. The air bombardment, 
as before by A-20's and B-25's, began at 
1557 and was over by 1603. It was not a 
success. Most of the planes were unable to 
find the target area, and a flight of A-20's 
that did overshot the beachhead and 
dropped its bombs into the sea. One B-25 
unloaded its bomb load squarely in the 
midst of Colonel McCoy's two lead com- 



14 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 9, 10, 11, 13, 21 
Nov 42; 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 1, 2, 3, 7, 21 
Nov 42; Maj Parker's Buna Rpt; Col Knight's 
Buna Rpt. 



178 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



panies — Companies B and C — killing six, 
wounding twelve, and almost burying 
seventy others. 

This accident had a most disheartening 
effect on the 1st Battalion. Some of the men 
withdrew from the line of departure, and 
their commanders had to order them to re- 
turn. The attack finally got under way at 
1630, after a short unobserved artillery 
preparation by the mountain guns and a 
brief barrage by the mortars. As soon as 
the advance began, it was discovered that 
the preparation had done the well dug in 
enemy little or no harm. Once again the 
troops had to attack an enemy who was 
virtually untouched by Allied fire. 

The attackers had few heavy weapons. 
Most of their 81 -mm. mortars and heavy 
machine guns either had been lost or had 
not arrived. All the mortar shells reaching 
the front — including the light 81 -mm. mor- 
tar shell, the only shell available at the time 
for the mortars — were fused superquick so 
that the shells went off on contact and had 
little effect against the Japanese bunkers. 
Forward observers were handicapped by 
the heavy jungle growth, Japanese camou- 
flage discipline, and communications fail- 
ures. The SCR 536, the small handset radio 
with which the mortar platoons were 
equipped, refused to work in the jungle. 

The troops along the coastal track fought 
desperately with rifles, Thompson sub- 
machine guns, light machine guns, and 
hand grenades. They knocked out a few 
machine gun nests during the day, as did 
the Australian Independent Company 
which was operating near the eastern end of 
the strip. Otherwise there was little prog- 
ress. Casualties were heavy. In three days of 
combat, Company C lost sixty-three men, 
including all four of its officers. Two ser- 



geants, killed within a few hours of each 
other, commanded it on the 21st. 15 

Colonel Miller's battalion failed even to 
reach the bridge between the strips. A 
twenty-round barrage by the 60-mm. mor- 
tars, fired without observation and with the 
aid only of a photomap, had followed the 
air bombardment. The troops had jumped 
off at 1 628 and at first had made good prog- 
ress. They moved through the clearing 
where they had been held up on the 19th 
and 20th, swept past the junction, and sev- 
eral of the lead platoons actually advanced 
to within a short distance of the bridge. At 
its approaches a withering crossfire com- 
pletely pinned them down. The battalion 
lost forty-two killed, wounded, and missing 
in the attack and, try as it would, could not 
advance. At 1750, Colonel Miller ordered 
the troops to pull back to a less-exposed 
position south of the track junction. 

It was clear by this time that the 3d 
Battalion was not going to take the bridge. 
At 2015 that night Colonel Miller was or- 
dered to leave one company suitably pro- 
vided with ammunition and supplies to hold 
the existing position. The rest of the battal- 
ion was to march to the coast, where it was 
to operate thenceforward on the right flank, 
against Cape Endaiadere. The march was 
to be accomplished as swiftly as possible and 
in such a way that the Japanese would be 
unaware of the transfer. Company I, under 
1st Lt. Carl K. Fryday, was chosen to stay 

15 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 339 through 350, 21 
Nov 42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 21 through 25, 
21 Nov 42; 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 8, 11, 21 Nov 
42 ; Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 2 1 Nov 42 ; Ltr, 
Col MacNab to author, 15 Nov 49. The two ser- 
geants, 1st Sgt. Reuben J. Steger, and S.Sgt. Carl 
Cherney, both from Marshfield, Wisconsin, were 
posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service 
Cross. Steger's citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 1, 
1 Jan 43; Gherney's is in GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



179 



behind, and the rest of the battalion was 
moved back to Simemi early the following 
morning. By 1800 that evening the troops 
were bivouacked to the rear of the position 
held by Colonel McCoy's battalion. 16 

The supply picture had brightened slight- 
ly. The airstrip at Dobodura opened for lim- 
ited traffic on 2 1 November, and five addi- 
tional luggers arrived on the scene from 
Milne Bay the same day. One of them broke 
up on a reef immediately upon arrival, but 
the remaining four brought in their cargo 
safely. With the Kelton, Major Birkness now 
had five luggers for the coastwise operation. 
There was still a chance that the division's 
supply, disrupted though it was, could be put 
on an even keel. 

The artillery picture had also improved. 
On 2 1 November General Waldron brought 
in the two remaining 25-pounders, their 
Australian crews, and 200 rounds of ammu- 
nition. Japanese Zeros came over just as 
the guns were ready to be emplaced and 
knocked the sights off one of them, putting 
it out of action for several days. This left 
only three guns — the two mountain guns 
and a 25-pounder — immediately available 
for the attack on the powerful Japanese po- 
sitions in the Duropa Plantation. 17 

It had not taken General Harding long to 
realize that he was up against a strong enemy 
bunker line, and that the only way to re- 
duce it in a hurry was with tanks. Judging 



"3d Bn, 129th Inf, Jnl, 1635 through 2015, 21 
Nov 42, 0915 through 1800, 22 Nov 42; 32d Div 
Sitrep No. 57, 22 Nov 42 ; Maj Parker's Buna Rpt. 

" Tel Msg, 1st Lt Robert B. Wingler to 32d Div, 
Ser 1030, 20 Nov 42; Tel Msg, Gen Waldron to 
32d Div, Ser 1120, 21 Nov 42; Msg, Capt Lincoln 
B. Grayson, 114th Engr Bn, to 32d Div, Ser 1147, 
22 Nov 42; Msg, 32d Div to NGF, Ser 1153, 22 
Nov 42. All in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. Ltr, Gen 
Harding to Gen Herring, 28 Nov 42, copy in 
OCHM files; 32d Div Hist of Arty, Papuan Cam- 
paign; Col Knight's Buna Rpt. 



correctly that the Duropa Plantation was 
suitable for tank action, he asked Milne 
Force (which then had some light General 
Stuart tanks on hand) to send three of them 
to Oro Bay by barge. General Clowes did his 
best to comply with the request, but when 
the first of the tanks were loaded on some 
captured Japanese barges — the only craft 
available for the purpose — the barges sank, 
taking the tanks with them. Advised that 
there was no way to get the tanks to him, 
Harding was left with the task of trying to 
reduce the formidable Japanese positions 
without armor. 

Dissatisfied with the co-ordination be- 
tween the various units of Warren Force, 
Harding ordered Lt. Col. Alexander J. 
MacNab, executive officer of the 128th 
Infantry, an experienced and aggressive 
soldier in whom he had great confidence, 
to report to General MacNider, under 
whom he was to co-ordinate the coastal 
drive. MacNab reached the front on 22 
November and at once began laying plans 
for a stepped-up attack. 18 

One of the first things that MacNab did 
was to place all the available mortars at the 
front in battery, connecting them by field 
telephone with a central observation post in 
a tall coconut tree overlooking the front. 
It was not a very good observation post — 
a much better one was to be found later — 
but it gave the mortars and the artillery 
infinitely better observation than was ob- 
tainable before. Next morning the artillery 
pieces registered on the enemy positions 
along the coastal track and in the New Strip 



18 Rad, Gen Harding to Milne Force (through 
NGF), Ser 972, 20 Nov 42; Rad, Milne Force to 
NGF (for Harding), Ser 1295, 20 Nov 42. Both in 
32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1330, 
1830, 22 Nov 42, 0900, 23 Nov 42 ; Interv with Gen 
Harding, 9 Dec 47. 



180 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



area. The fire was to such good effect that, 
when Colonel McCoy's and Colonel Car- 
rier's lead companies attacked that day, they 
were able to push the Japanese back against 
their main line of resistance. The 2/6 In- 
dependent Company, operating off the 
eastern end of the strip, also made a little 
progress that day. Ordered to hold tight, 
Lieutenant Fryday's unit, Company I, 
1 28th Infantry, still in position off the south- 
west end of the New Strip, remained where 
it was. 19 

General MacNider had come up during 
the afternoon from his headquarters at 
Hariko to observe the fighting. He was 
wounded at 1830 by an enemy rifle grenade 
while inspecting the front lines and was im- 
mediately evacuated. On General Harding's 
instructions, Colonel Hale succeeded him as 
commander of Warren Force. 20 

The next two days, 24 and 25 November, 
were quiet. Colonel Miller's troops relieved 
Colonel McCoy's in the front lines, but no 
advance was attempted either day. The lull 
was being used to prepare for a co-ordinated 
attack on Cape Endaiadere and both ends 
of the New Strip, on the 26th, Thanksgiv- 
ing Day. 

This was to be a strong effort. Eight artil- 
lery pieces — six 25-pounders and the two 
3. 7 -inch howitzers — would be in support, 
four more 25-pounders having been brought 
in by air on the 25th and emplaced near 
Ango. A dozen 81 -mm. mortars and several 
more heavy machine guns would be avail- 
able, as well as thirty-five planes — the larg- 



10 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 363, 366, 23 Nov 
42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 19, 20, 23 Nov 42; 
Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 15 Nov 49. 

20 Msg, 32d Div to NGF, Ser 1280, 23 Nov 42, 
in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 
Ser 20, 23 Nov 42; Interv with Gen Harding, 9 
Dec 47. 



est concentration of aircraft for an attack 
to date. 

The action would open with a thorough 
bombing and strafing of enemy positions in 
the Cape Endaiadere-New Strip area. 
When the air attack was over, the mountain 
guns would fire on Cape Endaiadere and the 
25-pounders would let loose on the bridge 
between the strips and on the western end 
of the New Strip. The troops would start 
from a line of departure about 900 yards 
south of the cape. Colonel Miller's 3d Bat- 
talion, 128th Infantry (less Company I), 
would thrust directly north along the 
coastal track and Cape Endaiadere. Col- 
onel Carrier's battalion would move out on 
Miller's left. Colonel McCoy's troops were 
to follow Colonel Carrier's at an interval of 
1 ,000 yards, prepared to push through them 
if necessary. The 2/6 Independent Com- 
pany would continue attacking on the east- 
ern end of the New Strip, and Company I, 
128th Infantry, from its position below the 
track junction, would attempt to establish 
itself on the western end of the strip. 21 

High hopes were held for the success of 
the attack. General Harding left his head- 
quarters at Embogo the night before to ob- 
serve it personally. Having no motor boat 
for command use, he caught a ride on the 
lugger Helen Dawn, which was carrying 
ammunition to the forward dump at Ha- 
riko. About seven miles out the lugger ran 
onto a sand bar, and General Harding had 
to complete the remaining three miles of 
his journey in a row boat, with which, for- 
tunately, the Helen Dawn had come 



"1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 384, 25 Nov 42; 
1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1500, 25 Nov 42; 3d Bn, 
128th Inf, Jnl, 0730, 25 Nov 42; 128th Inf, Jnl, 
1210, 25 Nov 42; Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 26 
Nov 42; 32d Div Hist of Arty, Papuan Campaign. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



181 



equipped. Harding arrived at Colonel Hale's 
command post at Hariko at 0445. After 
visiting Colonel McCoy and Colonel Carrier 
in their command posts, he moved on to 
Colonel Miller's CP. 22 

The attack went off as scheduled. It 
opened with strafing by Beaufighters and 
P-40's, and bombing by A-20's and B-25's. 
At 0930, after a short preparation by artil- 
lery, mortars, and heavy machine guns, 
Colonel Miller's battalion moved forward 
on the right. Fifteen minutes later Colonel 
Carrier's troops jumped off on the left. 

Allied preparatory fire had hit the target 
area but had done the enemy troops little 
harm. Retiring into their bunkers, the Jap- 
anese waited until it was over, and then 
emerged unscathed to meet the American 
infantry attack from hidden firing positions 
that commanded every approach. 

Colonel Miller's troops, coming up 
against the strongest section of the Japanese 
line, were stopped almost at once. They suf- 
fered fifty casualties by noon and could not 
move forward. Company K, which had sus- 
tained the bulk of the casualties, was pinned 
down completely, and Company L, out of 
contact with Carrier's battalion, was im- 
mobilized. Japanese fighter planes from Lae 
(which destroyed the Helen Dawn when 
they found it still caught on the sand 
bar succeeded in bombing and strafing 
Miller's battalion despite Allied attempts at 
interception. 

Carrier's attack was also a disappoint- 
ment, and narrowly missed being a fiasco. 
Moving through waist-deep swamp, Car- 



22 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Ser 5, 26 Nov 42; 3d 
Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 5, 11, 26 Nov 42; Gen 
Harding's Diary, 26 Nov 42 ; Ltr, Col Miller to Gen 
Ward, 27 Mar 51; Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 
24 Jul 51. 



rier's lead troops, though following a com- 
pass course, seem to have misjudged both 
their direction and their distances. Turning 
apparently too sharply to the west, and then 
cutting too soon to the east, they managed 
to get themselves completely turned around. 
At 1400 Carrier reported that his troops 
were nearing the sea, and at 1503 he found 
to his embarrassment that they were coming 
out on the coast on Miller's rear. Realizing 
his error, Carrier resumed the attack, this 
time striking toward the Duropa Planta- 
tion. He made some minor gains against 
strong enemy opposition, and by morning 
the two battalions presented a continuous 
front to the enemy. 

Nor did the Australian Independent 
Company and Company I, 128th Infantry, 
to the east and west respectively of the New 
Strip, make any gains that day. Both were 
stopped in their tracks almost as soon as they 
tried to move forward. The attack on which 
so much hope had been placed had been a 
complete failure. 23 

The next day, Allied aircraft in the course 
of bombing Japanese positions along the 
New Strip dropped a string of demolition 
bombs on Lieutenant Fryday's position 



23 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 392, 393, 396, 26 
Nov 42; 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 1 through 12, 
15, 17, 26 Nov 42; Msgs, 32d Div to NGF, Sers 
1476, 1477, 26 Nov 42; Allied Air Forces Opns 
Rpt, 26 Nov 42 ; Gen Harding's Diary, 26 Nov 42; 
Ltr, Col Miller to Gen Ward, 27 Mar 51. During 
the heavy fighting on Colonel Carrier's front that 
afternoon, Pvt. Howard M. Eastwood of Company 
C, 126th Infantry, single-handedly attacked a ten- 
man party of the enemy whom he had discovered to 
his front on a scouting mission. Standing upright in 
the tall grass, he engaged the Japanese with fire 
from his submachine gun, killing several and dis- 
persing the others. Killed by an enemy sniper in 
the area, Eastwood was posthumously awarded the 
Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in 
GHQ SWPA GO No. 9, 19 Jan 43. 



182 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



southwest of the strip. Three men were seri- 
ously wounded, and Fryday temporarily 
pulled his company back into the jungle, 
south of the position from which the first 
attack of the 3d Battalion, 128th Infantry, 
had been launched on 19 November. 24 

The Attack on the Left 

Things had gone no better on General 
Harding's left flank. Colonel Smith's 2d Bat- 
talion, 128th Infantry, had begun moving 
from Ango toward Buna during the morn- 
ing of 2 1 November. The battalion's orders 
were to advance on Buna Mission by way of 
the Triangle, the jungle-covered track junc- 
tion from which the Dobodura-Buna track 
forked to Buna Village and Buna Mission. 
Captain Yasuda, whose Yokosuka 5th, Sa- 
sebo 5th, and supporting naval pioneer 
troops totaled more than double the strength 
of Smith's battalion, was ready. He had a 
series of concealed machine gun positions 
south of the Triangle covering the track, and 
an elaborate system of bunkers in the Tri- 
angle itself. There was heavy swamp on 
either side of the Triangle, and the bunk- 
ers had the effect of turning it into a position 
of almost impregnable strength. Strong 
bunker positions in the Coconut Grove 
north of the Triangle, and in the Govern- 
ment Gardens northeast of it, lay astride the 
trails leading to the village and the mission, 
both of which were also honeycombed with 
bunkers. 

Yasuda's defensive position was excellent. 
His short, secure, interior lines of communi- 
cation enabled him to concentrate almost his 



24 Msg, Col Hale to Gen Harding, Ser 1550, 27 
Nov 42: in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 128th Inf Jnl, 
0910, 1035, 27 Nov 42. 



full strength at any threatened point and, 
when the threat passed, or he chose to with- 
draw, to use the same troops to beat off an- 
other attack elsewhere. 

The 2d Battalion, 128th Infantry, mov- 
ing forward toward the Triangle along the 
Dobodura-Buna track, knew nothing of the 
Japanese defenses in the area and very little 
about the terrain. At 1330 Sgt. Irving W. 
iHall of Company F, leading the point, 
caught a swift glimpse of an enemy machine 
gun about fifty yards away. Coolly turning 
his back on the gun so as to give the im- 
pression that he had not seen it, Hall mo- 
tioned his men off the track. Before the 
Japanese knew what he was up to he turned 
around and fired a burst at them from his 
submachine gun. In the heavy fire fight that 
ensued, the point suffered one casualty. 2a 

Stopped on the trail by apparently strong 
enemy positions, Colonel Smith at once be- 
gan flanking operations. Company G was 
ordered to move out on the right and Com- 
pany F on the left. Company H was given 
orders to engage the enemy frontally, and 
Company E went into reserve. 26 

At 2130, Colonel Smith reported to Gen- 
eral Harding that he had run into opposi- 
tion at the junction and that, while he was 
moving forward slowly on either side of that 
position in an attempt to flank it, he was be- 
ing delayed by heavy swamp which was 
causing him more trouble than the enemy. 
General Harding immediately asked New 
Guinea Force to reinforce Smith with a bat- 
talion of the 1 26th Infantry from the other 
side of the Girua. Harding pointed out 



25 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1000, 1330, 21 Nov 42. 
Hall was later awarded the Silver Star. The citation 
is in HQ US Forces, Buna Area, GO No. 14, 20 
Jan 43. 

" 2d Bn, 1 28th Inf, Jnl, 1 330, 2 1 Nov 42. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



183 




126TH INFANTRYMEN PASSING THROUGH HARIKO on their way to the 
front lines. 



that it could march directly to Buna via the 
Soputa-Buna track. 27 

General Herring quickly acceded to Gen- 
eral Harding's request and ordered the 2d 
Battalion, 126th Infantry, across the river. 
Maj. Herbert M. Smith, commanding of- 
ficer of that battalion, reached Colonel 



2T Msg, Lt Col Herbert A. Smith to Gen Harding, 
Ser 1100, 1101, 21 Nov 42; Msg, Gen Harding to 
NGF, No. 1099 [sic], 21 Nov 42. Both in 32d Div 
G-2, G-3 Jnl. The fact that the serial of General 
Harding's message to New Guinea Force is lower 
than the serials on the messages from Colonel 
Smith to General Harding was apparently due to 
an error in filing, since the messages from Smith 
were received at 32d Division headquarters at 2130, 
and Harding's message to New Guinea Force did 
not go out until 2205 — thirty-five minutes later. 



Smith's command post at 0930, 23 Novem- 
ber. The two 2d Battalions thereupon took 
the name of Urbana Force, and Colonel 
Smith, as senior officer present, took com- 
mand. To avoid confusion in radio mes- 
sages, General Harding designated Colonel 
Smith as White Smith, and Major Smith as 
Red Smith. 28 

The terrain Urbana Force had run into, 
especially on the right, was (as Colonel 
Smith had already intimated to General 
Harding) appalling. The main track was 



28 Msg, Maj Smith to 32d Div, Ser 1254, 23 Nov 
42; Msg, Gen Harding to Maj Smith, Ser 1257, 
23 Nov 42. Both in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. 2d Bn, 
128th Inf, Jnl, 0930, 23 Nov 42. 



184 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



deep in mud, and Company G, 128th In- 
fantry, attempting to advance on the right, 
hit stretches of swamp in which the troops 
sometimes found themselves up to their 
necks in water. Company F, 128th In- 
fantry, met better terrain on the left but dis- 
covered that Entrance Creek, which paral- 
leled the left-hand fork of the Triangle, not 
only was tidal and unfordable but seemed 
to be covered by enemy machine guns at 
every likely crossing. 20 

Company G's experience in the swamp 
had been particularly wearing. The men 
had moved out into the swamp to the right 
of the Triangle in the late afternoon of 21 
November. As they made their way east- 
ward, darkness fell. The acting company 
commander, 1st Lt. Theodore Florey, de- 
cided to go on, but the swamp kept getting 
deeper. Since there seemed to be little chance 
of reaching dry ground before morning, 
Florey finally called a halt at 2100. The 
company spent a miserable night. A few of 
the men were able to find perches on the 
roots of trees, but the rest waited in the mire 
for morning. Wet to the skin and in need of 
sleep, the men started moving again at day- 
break. After a slow and difficult march, 
they hit dry land at about noon. Taking 
their bearings, the troops discovered that 
they were on one of two kunai flats run- 
ning southeast of the Triangle, and that 
only about 200 yards of sago swamp lay 
between them and the flat adjacent to their 
objective. 

Though he now had a company in posi- 
tion to strike, Colonel Smith had grave 
doubts whether an attack from that quar- 



"Msgs, Col Smith to Gen Harding, Sers 1100, 
1101, 21 Nov 42; Tel Msg, Capt Grayson to Gen 
Harding, Ser 1166, 22 Nov 42; Msg, Col Smith to 
Gen Harding, Ser 1189, 22 Nov 42. All in 32d Div 
G 2, G 3 Jnl. 



ter would be practicable. Reports from 
Company G, from the Ammunition and 
Pioneer Platoon, which was carrying rations 
forward to it, as well as from wire-laying 
parties of Headquarters Company, which 
were having a difficult time laying wire on 
the right, convinced him that it would be 
virtually out of the question to try to supply 
Company G in the terrain in which it found 
itself. Since the reports from Company F 
were much more favorable and indicated 
that the swamp on the left of the Triangle 
was never more than waist-deep, he decided 
to pull Company G back from its untenable 
position on the right and concentrate his 
entire force on the left where the going, 
though far from good, was obviously much 
better. 30 

On 23 November Colonel Smith sent a 
message to division headquarters informing 
it of his plan. The supply route to Company 
G, he wrote, was "neck-deep in mud and 
water," and he asked permission for the 
company's withdrawal. 31 After waiting until 
about 1400 for a reply and receiving none, 
Smith ordered the company to pull out of 
the swamp and report to him for further 
orders. So ordered, the company severed its 
wire connection with battalion headquar- 
ters and started for the rear. Division head- 
quarters had received Smith's message 
about 1400 and, because of an error on the 
part of the decoding clerk, understood it to 
say that the supply route to Company G 
was "knee-deep in mud and water," and 
not, as Colonel Smith sent it, "neck-deep." 
The headquarters replied at 1425 that 
Smith was under no circumstances to with- 



30 Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 

31 Msg, Col Smith to 3 2d Div, Ser 1246, 23 Nov 
42, corrected in Ser 1277 of the same date, in 3 2d 
Div G 2, G-3 Jnl. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



185 



draw, but was instead to proceed with the 
attack. 32 

Colonel Smith sent a messenger to inter- 
cept Company G and return it to its former 
position. Having only limited knowledge 
of the enemy positions he was supposed to 
attack, he asked division for a delay of a 
day or two in which to learn more about the 
enemy and the terrain, and perhaps find a 
better route of supply to Company G. Di- 
vision would not give him the time. At 2045 
it informed him that there would be an air 
strike on the Triangle at 0800 the next 
morning, 24 December, following which he 
and Major Smith were to attack. 33 

At 2330 the two Smiths held a staff meet- 
ing at Colonel Smith's command post, 
1,200 yards south of the nearest Japanese 
positions below the Triangle. There they 
worked out a plan which envisaged simul- 
taneous thrusts at the Triangle from left, 
front, and right. The three-way attack 
would be preceded by air bombardment 
and strafing scheduled for 0800, and the 
troops were to jump off as soon as the air 
attack was over. Four 25-pounders which 
had just reached Dobodura that day would 
fire from Ango in support of the attack as 
soon as they got the range. 34 

The attack opened at 0800 the next 
morning with an attempt by the air force 
to strafe the Triangle. Twelve P-40's made 
one pass over the objective and missed it 
altogether. No bombers followed the fight- 
ers, and there was no attempt by the P-40's 



32 Msg, Gen Harding to Col Smith, Ser 1247, 23 
Nov 42, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; Ltr, Col Herbert 
A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 

311 Msg, 32d Div to Col Smith, Ser 1276, 23 Nov 
42; 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 2330, 23 Nov 42; Ltr, 
Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 

a * 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 23 Nov 42; 2d Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, 2330, 23 Nov 42, 1420, 24 Nov 42; Ltr, 
Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 



to try to hit the Triangle again, since they 
apparently thought they had executed their 
mission. 

Because the air attack had been a com- 
plete failure, the ground attack was held up 
to give the air force a chance to try again. 
It was arranged that this time eight 
P-39's and four P-40's would attack at 
1355. There was to be no bombardment, 
since no bombers were available. 

At the appointed time only the four 
P^rO's showed up. Instead of strafing the 
Japanese in the Triangle, they strafed Colo- 
nel Smith's command post. Fortunately 
only one man was wounded in the strafing, 
and he only slightly, but the Japanese posi- 
tions in the Triangle were left completely 
untouched. 

After the last of the P-40's had finished 
strafing his command post, Colonel Smith 
waited a few moments to see if any more 
planes would follow. No more planes ar- 
rived; so he ordered the attack to begin 
without further support from the air force. 
Following a short mortar preparation, prin- 
cipally by the 60-mm. mortars (the two 
battalions then had only two 81 -mm. mor- 
tars apiece and little ammunition for 
them), the troops jumped off at 1428. At 
1437 the 25-pounders at Ango found the 
range, and joined in the attack. 35 

On the left, Company E, 1 26th Infantry, 
began by swinging wide around Entrance 
Creek; then it moved north about 400 yards 
and turned northeast. Just as it had finished 
covering another 400 yards and was ap- 
proaching a small bridge over the creek 



35 Msg, Col Smith to Gen Harding, Ser 1339, 24 
Nov 42, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 2d Bn, 126th 
Inf, Jnl, 24 Nov 42; 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 0800, 
1355, 1400, 24 Nov 42; Allied Air Forces Opns 
Rpt, 24 Nov 42, in G 3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Ltr, 
Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 



186 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



northwest of the Triangle, a strong Japa- 
nese force struck with accurate machine 
gun fire. The troops dug in at once in fox- 
holes which immediately filled with water. 
They went no further that day. 

Company F, 126th Infantry, though 
soon joined by Company H, Colonel 
Smith's heavy weapons company, did little 
in its frontal attack on the Triangle. It 
moved forward about 300 yards, only to 
find heavy barbed wire entanglements 
strung across the track. The enemy covering 
the wire was laying down intense fire. Hav- 
ing neither wire cutters nor the materials 
with which to make Bangalore torpedoes, 
the Americans dug in and requested engi- 
neers with explosives to clear the way. 36 

Companies E and G, 128th Infantry, on 
the right, fared worst of all. Using newly 
found short cuts through the deep swamp, 
Company E managed to reach the kunai 
flat in much less time than Company G had 
taken to reach it after its groping efforts of 
21 November. The men of Company E 
therefore joined up with Company G in 
plenty of time for the attack. 

Leaving its weapons platoon on the flat 
with Company E, Company G under 
Lieutenant Florey started moving north- 
west through the sago swamp to flank the 
Triangle. A little less than 200 yards out, 
the leading platoon came upon a small 
grassy area, just outside the Triangle, where 
it surprised a group of Japanese working on 
what appeared to be an antiaircraft posi- 
tion. The Americans opened fire, but there 
were more Japanese about than they 



M 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 24 Nov 42, 25 Nov 42; 
2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1412, 1530, 1552, 1660, 
1930, 24 Nov 42; Kahn, "The Terrible Days of 
Company E," in The Saturday Evening Post, Janu- 
ary 15, 1944, p. 76. 



thought, and the company, after suffering 
several casualties, was forced back into the 
swamp. Attempts to maneuver around the 
grassy strip were unsuccessful because of 
intense automatic weapons fire which 
greeted the company at every turn. Dark- 
ness found the troops pinned down at the 
edge of the strip, where the slope of the 
ground leading into the swamp afforded 
them a little cover. 

While the main body of Company G was 
held up just outside the right-hand fork of 
the Triangle, the Japanese from the Gov- 
ernment Gardens moved forward to within 
firing distance of the kunai flat held by 
Company E and the weapons platoon of 
Company G. They attacked just as it was 
turning dark, killing one man and wound- 
ing five others and greatly disheartening 
the troops on the flat, most of whom were 
under enemy fire for the first time. 

The weapons platoon of Company G had 
had two days to get its weapons in order af- 
ter its march through the swamp, and Com- 
pany E had been on the kunai flat five or six 
hours, long enough for it to do the same. 
But the Americans apparently lacked oil, 
and parts of the equipment were wet, and 
they may have been negligent. Whatever the 
reason, when they were caught in the open, 
with the sounds of Japanese yells coming 
from a short distance away, the men tried 
to hit back at the unseen enemy as best they 
could, only to find that their weapons would 
not function properly. ". . . Mortars fell 
short because increments [the propelling 
charges in the mortar ammunition] were 
wet. Machine guns jammed because web 
belts were wet and dirty and had shrunk. 
Tommy guns and BAR's were full of muck 
and dirt, and even the Mi's fired well only 
for the first clip, and then jammed because 
clips taken from the belts were wet and full 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



187 



of muck from the swamp." 37 Low on am- 
munition, completely out of food, and fear- 
ing that they had been ambushed, the troops 
pulled back hastily into the swamp, leaving 
some of their crew-served weapons behind 
them. 38 

Colonel Smith in the meantime had been 
in communication with Company E by tele- 
phone. Learning that the Japanese attack 
had driven the company off the flat and 
into the swamp, he ordered the troops to 
remain where they were until he could come 
up in the morning and give them further 
instructions. At that point the phone went 
dead, and Smith could make no further con- 
tact with the two companies. 

Company E was at this time strung out in 
a single file all the way back from the kunai 
flat, with the weapons platoon of Company 
G somewhere in the middle of the line. At 
the far end of the line, nearest to battalion, 
was the executive officer of Company E, 1st 
Lt. Orin Rogers, and at the head of it, 
nearest to the flat and the dead telephone, 
was the commanding officer of Company 
E, Capt. A. T. Bakken. 

Shortly after darkness fell, an order 
passed along the line to Lieutenant Rogers 
to move back to the battalion command 
post. Rogers assumed at the time that the 
phone at Captain Bakken's end of the line 
was working again and that there had been 
a change in orders. He nevertheless made it 
a point to ask if the order had come from 
the captain. The answer came back a few 
minutes later that it had. Thinking no more 
of the matter, Rogers started the lead troops 
back to the command post. At the other end 
of the line, Captain Bakken had also re- 



57 Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 
38 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 2145, 24 Nov 42, 1230, 
25 Nov 42. 



ceived an order to move to the rear. Know- 
ing that the phone near him was out, he 
assumed that a messenger from battalion 
headquarters had delivered such a message 
to Lieutenant Rogers. Just to make sure, he 
asked whether the message had come from 
battalion headquarters. The answer came 
back (again via the chain method) that it 
had, and the entire column started moving 
to the rear, the weapons platoon of Com- 
pany G with it. 39 

The rest of Company G, under Lieuten- 
ant Florey, still pinned down just outside 
the grassy strip leading to the Triangle, had 
sent a runner back with orders to the weap- 
ons platoon to bring up more mortars. The 
runner returned with the report that Com- 
pany E and the weapons platoon were gone. 
An officer was sent back to the kunai flat to 
check. When he returned with confirmation 
of the report, Company G, after waiting for 
further orders and receiving none, also 
began to move to the rear. 

Company E, 128th Infantry, and the 
weapons platoon of Company G reached 
Colonel Smith's command post in the early 
morning hours of 25 November, and Com- 
pany G, except for a few stragglers, arrived 
there by 1007. At 1020 Colonel Smith, who 
only the night before had informed General 
Harding that he had instructed the men 
to remain near the edge of the kunai flat 
until morning, gave "faulty communica- 



M Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 
Despite a thorough investigation of the matter, 
Colonel Smith was never able to find out who 
originated the message for the troops to return to 
the rear. As he put it in the letter cited above: "A 
number of men told of passing the messages back 
and forth, but no one could say definitely where 
they originated, and many of the men did not even 
know who stood next to them, especially where 
Company E and the Weapons Platoon of Company 
G were badly intermingled." 



188 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



tion" as the reason for their return to the 
rear in apparent contravention of his 
orders. 40 

Because the men were exhausted and 
hungry, and also because he did not believe 
that an attack on the right would succeed, 
Smith decided against ordering the men 
back into the swamp. His decision, as he 
himself phrased it, was "to abandon for the 
time being any action on the right and con- 
centrate on the left, and to continue patrol- 
ling on the right in the hope of finding a 
more suitable route forward." 41 

Though he now shared Colonel Smith's 
views about the impracticality of an at- 
tack on the right and the need to make the 
main effort on the left, General Harding 
had gone one step further in his thinking. 
A study of the trail which led from the left- 
hand fork of the Triangle to Buna Village 
and Buna Mission had convinced him that 
it would be possible to bypass the Triangle 
and at the same time take both the village 
and the mission, if troops could be gotten 
onto the large grassy area northwest of the 
Triangle through which, in his own phrase, 
"the left hand road to Buna" ran. He 
therefore ordered Smith to contain the Tri- 
angle with a portion of his troops and to 
deploy the rest in the swamp south of the 
grassy area in question, preparatory to seiz- 
ing it and moving westward on Buna 
Village. 

Smith began deploying his troops in ac- 
cordance with this tactical plan early on 26 
November. Company F, 128th Infantry, 
and Company G, 126th Infantry, moved 
into the area west of the bridge over En- 



40 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 2145, 24 Nov 42, 0908, 
1007, 1020, 25 Nov 42. 

41 Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 



trance Creek which had been occupied and 
patrolled by Company E, 126th Infantry, 
since 24 November. 42 

The troops had scarcely begun moving 
when General Harding, who had for some 
time felt that the attack on the Urbana 
front was not being pressed with sufficient 
vigor, ordered his chief of staff, Col. John 
W. Mott, to that front. Mott's instructions 
were to take strong action when he got there 
and, if he thought the situation required it, 
to take command. 43 

Colonel Mott reached Colonel Smith's 
command post on the afternoon of the 27th. 
Surveying the situation quickly, he came to 
the conclusion that he would have to as- 
sume command and did so at once. He re- 
lieved the captains of Companies E and G, 
128th Infantry, of their commands and or- 
dered them to take patrols into the area 
forward of the kunai flat from which the 
Japanese had driven Company E and the 
weapons platoon of Company G two days 
before. In addition, he ordered Companies 
E and G under their new commanders io 
retrieve their abandoned weapons on the 
kunai flat. They did so by sundown, but 
Company E returned without one of its 
mortars and had to be sent back a second 
time to get it.** 



" 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 26 Nov 42; 2d Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, 0832, 26 Nov 42. 

43 Gen Harding's Diary, 26 Nov 42; Ltr, Gen 
Harding to Gen Herring, 28 Nov 42; Col Mott, 
Memorandum, 10 Dec 42. Copies of last two in 
OCMH files. 

44 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1412, 1545, 1550, 27 
Nov 42, 0700, 28 Dec 42; Col Mott's Memo; Ltr, 
Col Herbert A. Smith to Gen Ward, 20 Mar 51. 
Capt A. T. Bakken of Company E was reinstated 
shortly thereafter, and Capt H. Spraetz of Company 
G, who was sick at the time his company was in 
the swamp, went to the hospital and did not return. 
Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



189 



Mott at once prepared to attack. He 
adopted a suggestion made to him by Major 
Smith, that the attack on the grassy strip 
leading to the village be mounted initially 
from two smaller grass strips just south of 
the larger kunai patch, and made his dis- 
positions accordingly. Major Smith's battal- 
ion was ordered to assemble near the Girua 
River, directly below the two strips that 
Smith had proposed as the jump-off point 
for the attack. Company F, 1 28th Infantry, 
occupied the area west of the bridge over 
Entrance Creek. Companies G and H, un- 
der Colonel Smith, were ordered to take 
over the positions south of the Triangle in 
order to contain the enemy there. Company 
E, left in reserve, was deployed around task 
force headquarters. 

Mott reported his dispositions to General 
Harding on the evening of 28 November, 
and the division commander approved 
them. Following a suggestion from General 
Herring that he try night attacks, Harding 
ordered an attack on Buna Village that 
night. Pleading that he was not ready to 
attack, Mott asked for a twenty-four-hour 
delay. Harding granted his request, and the 
attack was set for the last night of the 
month — 29-30 November. 45 

The Attacks of 30 November 
Integrating the Attacks 

On the Warren front, a two-day lull had 
followed the reverse of 26 November. On 
the 28th General Harding ordered Colonel 
Hale to prepare to attack the next day. A 



45 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 26 Nov 42, 27 Nov 42, 
28 Nov 42; 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 0832, 1412, 
1458, 1643, 27 Nov 42, 0745, 1231, 1431, 1910, 28 
Nov 42 ; Col Mott's Memo ; Gen Harding's Diary, 
28 Nov 42 ; Ltr, Lt Col Herbert M. Smith to author, 
16 Mar 50. 



report that evening, subsequently found to 
be false, that the Japanese were making a 
ground attack on Dobodura caused Gen- 
eral Harding to postpone the attack to the 
early morning of the 30th. {Map 10) I 

Both Urbana Force and Warren Force 
were now scheduled to attack on the 30th, 
Urbana Force a few hours before Warren 
Force. Each was still suffering from the most 
acute deficiencies of supply, all but one of 
the luggers that had come in on 2 1 Novem- 
ber having by this time either gone aground 
or been destroyed by the enemy. 46 

Colonel Mott's Attack 

Preparations for the attack on the 
Urbana front were complete by evening of 
the 29th. In a large coconut tree that over- 
looked the front, Colonel Mott had an ob- 
servation post connected by telephone with 
the artillery at Ango and the mortars. Both 
artillery and mortars were registered on the 
objective — the large grassy area just north 
of the two clearings below which Urbana 
Force was preparing the attack. Mott's com- 
mand post was a hundred yards behind the 
most forward element of Company E, 1 26th 
Infantry. His aid station and part of a col- 
lecting company were in place near the 
Girua River. 

The final details of the attack were 
worked out with Major Smith. The troops 
would move off toward the main strip as 
soon after midnight as possible. A thirty- 
minute mortar and artillery preparation 
would be laid down on the strip. Immedi- 
ately afterward the men would proceed to 
their objective in darkness. Lacking white 

" Msg, 32d Div to NGF, Ser 1770, 29 Nov 42, in 
32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 128th Inf Jnl, 2050, 2150, 
27 Nov 42, 2122, 2215, 28 Nov 42; Ltr, Gen Hard- 
ing to Gen Herring, 28 Nov 42, copy in OCMH 
files; Gen Harding's Diary, 28 Nov 42. 



190 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




MAP 10 

material for armbands, even underwear, 
the men would have to keep in close 
contact with one another. Companies E and 
F, 126th Infantry, would attack in a north- 
easterly direction and occupy the main 
strip, making sure that they first secured 
that part of it which was nearest to the 
Coconut Grove, a small coconut plantation 
immediately north of the bridge over En- 
trance Creek. Company G, 1 26th Infantry, 
would attack along the track and take Buna 
Village. Company F, 128th Infantry, after 
being relieved in its present positions by 
Company E, 128th Infantry, would proceed 
to Siwori Creek, seize the crossing near its 
mouth, and outpost the area between the 



creek and the Girua River. Company H, 
128th Infantry, would be immediately be- 
hind Companies E and F, 126th Infantry, 
and would support them with fire. Com- 
pany E, 1 28th Infantry, operating immedi- 
ately to the right of Company E, 126th 
Infantry, would clear the Japanese out of 
the Coconut Grove. Company G, 1 28th In- 
fantry, under Colonel Smith, would operate 
south of the Triangle and thus cover the 
track, the artillery at Ango, and the rear 
of the forces attacking toward Buna 
Village. 47 

*' 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 29 Nov 42; Col Mott's 
Memo; Ltrs, Lt Col Herbert M. Smith to author, 
16 Mar 50, 5 June 50. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



191 




The jump-off was delayed. Enemy fire 
from the strip, flares from enemy aircraft 
that flew over the area during the night, the 
rising tide in the swamp, and the confusion 
attendant upon moving so many men 
through the treacherous swamp terrain in 
the dark held up the attack for several 
hours. 

Robert H. Odell, then a lieutenant and 
platoon leader in Company F, 126th In- 
fantry, has this recollection of the matter : 

As soon as it was dark, preparations began. 
When these were completed, we each grasped 
the shoulder of the man in front, and slowly 
shuffled forward in the pitch black of the 
night. Our only guide was the telephone wire 



leading to the jump-off point, and the troops 
in the foxholes along the way who had been 
holding the ground recently captured. There 
was no trail and consequently several hours 
were required to travel as many hundreds of 
yards. We all had bayonets. Rifle fire was for- 
bidden until after the attack was well under 
way. Japs encountered along the way were 
to be dealt with silently. 

At 0400, Companies E, F, and G, 126th 
Infantry, finally attacked. It was still dark, 
and about one hundred yards out, they 
made their first enemy contact — a line of 
machine gun posts dead ahead. At that 
moment, Odell recalls: 

All hell broke loose. There was more lead 
flying through the air . . . than it's possible 



192 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



to estimate. Machine gun tracers lit the entire 
area, and our own rifle fire made a solid sheet 
of flame. Everywhere men cursed, shouted, or 
screamed. Order followed on order. . . . 
Brave men led and others followed. Cowards 
crouched in the grass literally frightened out 
of their skins. . . .*" 

The attack gathered momentum. The 
two companies — E and F, 1 26th Infantry — 
overran the enemy outposts and gained 
their objective — the eastern end of the main 
strip. There they found and dispatched an 
indeterminate number of Japanese, and 
began to consolidate. 48 

Company G, 126th Infantry, which was 
to have taken the track to Buna Village as 
soon as it gained the western end of the 
strip, accomplished only part of its mission. 
Led by its commander, 1st Lt. Cladie A. 
Bailey, it overran strong enemy opposition 
on its part of the strip but lost its way when 
it tried moving toward the village. When 
daylight came, the company found itself in 
the swamp along the northern edge of the 
strip. 50 Finding Company G out of reach, 
Colonel Mott immediately assigned Com- 
pany E, 126th Infantry, to the task of tak- 
ing the village. Moving directly on Buna 
Village by way of the main track, the com- 
pany attacked at 0600. About 300 yards out 
of the village, it ran into a well-manned 
enemy bunker line and found itself unable 
to advance because of enemy crossfire. 

On Major Smith's orders Capt. Harold 
E. Hantlemann of Company H came up 
with Lieutenant Nummer, commanding 
officer of Company F, and some troops from 
Headquarters Company. Putting Hantle- 

48 Odell, Buna. 

"2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 30 Nov 42; 128th Inf 
Jnl, 1000, 30 Nov 42; Col Mott's Memo; Ltr, Lt 
Col Herbert M. Smith to author, 16 Mar 50. 

50 For this night's righting Lieutenant Bailey was 
later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The 
citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 1, 1 Jan 43. 



mann in charge of the mortars, and Num- 
mer in command of front-line action, Smith 
made a determined effort to take the vil- 
lage. Preceded by the heaviest concentra- 
tion of mortar fire yet seen on the Urbana 
front, the second attack met even fiercer re- 
sistance than before. Again the troops could 
make only slight advances. When the at- 
tack was finally called off that afternoon, 
they had taken considerable casualties but 
gained very little ground. 51 

Company F, 128th Infantry, which had 
been given the task of securing the left flank 
of Urbana Force from enemy attack and 
cutting the enemy's land communications 
between Buna and Sanananda, succeeded in 
its mission. It secured the crossing over Si- 
wori Creek and outposted the trail between 
it and the bridge over the Girua River. The 
troops east of Siwori Village had already 
killed several Japanese from Buna who had 
tried to cross the bridge, presumably to get 
to Giruwa or Sanananda. 

The other companies of the 2d Battalion, 
128th Infantry, had been less successful. 
Company E, attacking from the southeast 
end of the strip, failed to take the Coconut 
Grove, and Company G had very little suc- 
cess in its attacks into the southern tip of 
the Triangle. Both were subsequently or- 
dered by Colonel Mott to contain these ob- 



n 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 30 Nov 42; Col Mott's 
Memo; Gen Harding's Diary, 30 Nov 42; Ltr, Lt 
Col Herbert M. Smith to author, 16 Mar 50. Lieu- 
tenant Nummer was wounded in the course of the 
attack but continued in command in spite of his 
wounds. He was later awarded the Distinguished 
Service Cross. The same award, though posthumous, 
went to Sgt. Boyd L. Lincoln, a squad leader of 
Company E, 126th Infantry, who was killed that 
afternoon after leading his squad with great distinc- 
tion all day against the enemy outpost on the out- 
skirts of the village. Nummer's citation is in GHQ 
SWPA GO No. 3, 6 Jan 43; Lincoln's, in GO No. 
1, 1 Jan 43. 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



193 



jectives and to make no attacks upon them 
until otherwise ordered. 

In the mop-up of the large grassy strip, 
the troops overran a Japanese headquarters 
area from which apparently a considerable 
number of troops had very recently fled. 
The place consisted of a headquarters 
building, an infirmary, and several huts 
containing weapons, ammunition, food, 
and medicine. The two main buildings had 
bunkers to the rear with which they con- 
nected by tunnels. The buildings were of 
canvas and frame construction and had 
wooden floors covered with floor mats. 
When overrun, the headquarters building 
was strewn with military documents, codes, 
and diaries, and contained a large radio set 
which took eight men to carry. After remov- 
ing the papers, the radio, the food, and the 
medical supplies, the buildings were burned 
to the ground and the connecting bunkers 
blown up. 52 

Colonel Hale's Attack 

The attack on the Warren front, though 
more heavily supported than that on the 
Urbana front, was even less successful. By 
this time General Waldron and his second- 
in-command, Colonel McCreary, had 
opened an artillery command post at Dobo- 
dura and had established firing data for all 

52 Col Mott's Memo; Ltr, Lt Col Herbert M. 
Smith to author, 5 June 50; Ltr, Col Herbert A. 
Smith to Gen Ward, 20 Mar 51; Interv with Maj 
Odell, 14 Dec 50. Odell recalls that the troops had 
also found a locked safe — the only one in the area. 
Blowing it open, they found to their amazement 
that its only contents were numerous small rolls of 
thin, white paper. Assuming as a matter of course 
that the rolls were toilet paper, they used them as 
such, little realizing that what they had found was 
in fact writing paper, which, in the Japanese style, 
was rolled so as to permit the writer to cut it to any 
length that his letter or the business at hand 
required. 



known targets in the area. The Australian 
artillery consisted of the eight 25-pounders 
and two 3. 7 -inch mountain howitzers of the 
Manning, Hall, and O'Hare Troops. The 
Manning Troop, four 25-pounders, was 
north of Ango ; the Hall Troop, the remain- 
ing 25-pounders, and the O'Hare Troop, 
the two mountain howitzers, were at Boreo. 
A flight of Australian Wirraways had just 
arrived from Port Moresby to aid the artil- 
lery in its spotting of enemy targets, and 
one 105-mm. howitzer of Battery A, the 
129th U.S. Field Artillery Battalion (the 
only U.S. field piece to be used in the cam- 
paign) had reached Debodura by air the 
day before with its crew and 400 rounds of 
ammunition. The gun, under command of 
Gapt. Elmer D. Kobs, was emplaced at 
Ango on the 30th, too late however to take 
part in the attack. 53 

General Harding, more than ever con- 
vinced that it would take tanks to clean out 
the enemy bunker defenses in the Duropa 
Plantation, had meanwhile continued to 
plead for armor. He radioed General Johns 
of the Combined Operational Service Com- 
mand (COSC) on 27 November and asked 
him to do his best to get the tanks at Milne 
Bay to him. He suggested that Johns try to 
get some of the Japanese landing barges 
captured on Goodenough Island in the hope 
that they might prove big enough for the 
task. New Guinea Force replied for Johns 
that there were no barges anywhere in the 
area big enough to carry the tanks, and 
that they were sending him Bren carriers 
instead. Thirteen carriers, tracked, lightly 
armored reconnaissance vehicles mounting 



53 Msg, 1st Lt Herbert G. Peabody, Dobodura, to 
32d Div, Ser 1551, 27 Nov 42; Col Handy's Buna 
Rpt; 3 2d Div Rpt of Arty, Papuan Campaign. The 
Wirraways were based at Port Moresby and were 
thus available to the division for only a few hours 
a day. 



194 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Bren machine guns, arrived with their crews 
at Porlock Harbor from Milne Bay the same 
day, 27 November. Advised that at least 
four of the carriers would reach him in the 
next couple of days, Harding immediately 
drew up plans for their use by Warren Force 
on the 30th. 54 

The plan of attack on the Warren front 
called for Colonel McCoy's battalion (re- 
organized into two rifle companies and one 
heavy weapons company) to move straight 
up the track in column of companies, with 
Company A leading. The advance would be 
on a 350-yard front, and two of the Bren 
carriers would spearhead the attack. Colonel 
Carrier's troops with the two remaining 
Brens leading, and the 2/6 Independent 
Company on its left, were to strike westward 
in the area immediately below the New 
Strip preparatory to a break-through in that 
area. Besides the Australians and the Bren 
carriers, four 81 -mm. mortars from Com- 
pany M, 128th Infantry, would support 
Carrier's force. Colonel Miller's battalion, 
less Company I, would be in reserve, ready 
to assist either McCoy or Carrier, as re- 
quired. Company I would remain in its 
blocking position astride the Dobodura- 
Simemi track, a few hundred yards south of 
the bridge between the strips. 

H Hour was to be 0630. Between H 
minus 15 and H Hour, the 25-pounders 
would lay down fire on the southwest end of 
the New Strip. Thereafter they would fire 
on the woods northeast of the strip to knock 

" Msg, 1st Lt Jay W. Moon, Porlock Harbor, to 
3 2d Div, Ser 1554, 27 Nov 42; Msg, 3 2d Div to 
CG COSG, Ser 1582, 27 Nov 42; Msg, 32d Div to 
Lt Moon, Ser 1633, 28 Nov 42; Msg, Gen Harding 
to Cmdr J. L. Sinclair, NOIC, Porlock Harbor, Ser 
1647, 28 Nov 42; Msg, NGF to 32d Div, Ser 1765, 
29 Nov 42. All in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. 1st Bn, 
126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 10, 29 Nov 42; 3d Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, 1015, 1550, 29 Nov 42; 128th Inf Jnl, 
0915, 1145, 29 Nov 42. 



out known Japanese mortar and artillery 
concentrations. The 3.7-inch mountain guns 
would first fire a preparation on Cape En- 
daiadere and then switch to local support of 
Colonel McCoy's advance. The air force, 
then fighting off an enemy convoy bound 
for Buna, would bomb and strafe enemy 
positions whenever it could find the planes 
to do so. 

Because of an acute shortage of shipping 
at Porlock Harbor, the Bren carriers failed 
to arrive as scheduled, and the attack was 
launched without them. The 105-mm. 
howitzer was not yet ready to fire and took 
no part in the attack. Nor was there the 
usual preliminary air bombardment, since 
the air force was still busy with the enemy 
convoy. 

The 25-pounders, the mountain guns, 
and the mortars opened up at 0615, and 
the troops jumped off at the appointed time, 
0630. Allied bombers, after successfully 
chasing the enemy convoy back to Rabaul, 
joined in the fray at 0900. At 0945 there 
was a further friendly artillery barrage, and 
at 1345 and 1448 Allied planes came over 
again, strafing and bombing. 

Despite this support, W arren Force made 
very little progress that day. Pressed tightly 
against the Japanese defensive positions 
and without tanks or enough heavy artil- 
lery using projectiles with delayed fuse to 
demolish the enemy fortifications, the 
Americans could make little headway. The 
troops fought desperately, but could not get 
through the enemy's protective fire. 

Company A, 1 28th Infantry, leading the 
attack along the coast, advanced less than 
a hundred yards when it ran into a massive 
log barricade which Colonel Yamamoto's 
troops had thrown across the trail. Auto- 
matic fire from behind the barricade and 
from concealed positions on its left soon 



THE FIRST TWO WEEKS AT BUNA 



195 



brought the company's advance to a com- 
plete halt. The artillery at Boreo was unable 
to reduce the barricade, and sustained fire 
from 8 1 -mm. mortars and from a 37-mm. 
gun brought up specifically for the purpose 
seemed to make no impression upon it. By 
noon Company A had been definitely 
stopped, and the men began to dig in, in 
the intense heat of the day. When Company 
A was relieved by Company B that night, 
it was about 900 yards south of the Cape. 
Its right flank was still in front of the barri- 
cade, and its left, which had not kept up, 
was curved almost all the way back to the 
line of departure. 55 

Colonel Carrier, on McCoy's left, facing 
west, had fared a little better. Ordered to 
infiltrate the eastern end of the New Strip 
with a view to striking along its northern 
edge, Company B tried to fight north into 
the fork but was stopped by enemy fire from 
a strongpoint dominating the spur and the 



50 Msg, 32d Div to NGF, Ser 1783, 30 Nov 42, in 
32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 
1 through 7, 30 Nov 42; 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 
0810, 30 Nov 42; 128th Inf Jnl, 0725, 0830, 1100, 
1233, 30 Nov 42 ; G-3 Opns Rpt, No. 238, 30 Nov- 
1 Dec 42; 18th Army Opns I, p. 22. 



strip. Company C, with the Independent 
Company on its left, was to flank the strip 
by advancing westward along its southern 
edge. It advanced to about the center of the 
strip before enemy fire became so heavy 
that it too had to dig in. Except for the 
slight progress on Colonel Carrier's front, 
the attack had again failed. 56 

The situation was serious. Despite re- 
peated attacks on it, the Japanese line stood 
intact. In the two weeks since the 3 2d Divi- 
sion had marched out so confidently on the 
enemy positions at Buna, it had sustained 
492 battle casualties but had made not so 
much as a single penetration of the enemy 
line. 57 It was obvious that something would 
have to be done to intensify the attack. 



54 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 423, 426, 428, 433, 
30 Nov 42; 128th Inf Jnl, 0835, 0945, 1035, 30 
Nov 42. 

"Msg, Gen Harding to NGF, Ser 1681, 28 Nov 
42, Ser 1860, 1 Dec 42; Msgs, Capt Joseph M. 
Stehling to 32d Div, Ser 1713, 28 Nov 42, Ser 1900, 
1 Dec 42. All in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. A break- 
down of the casualty figure follows: killed in action, 
82; wounded in action, 325; missing in action, 85. 
The bodies of many of those listed as missing in 
action were later recovered and went to swell the 
number killed. 



CHAPTER XI 



I Corps Reaches the Front 



The failure of the 3 2d Division to take 
Buna by the end of November had strong 
repercussions at Port Moresby. The feeling 
there was that the division had bogged 
down because of poor leadership, 1 a feeling 
that was to cost General Harding his com- 
mand. 

The Situation: 30 November 

The Condition of the Troops 

The men on both the Urbana and War- 
ren fronts were tired and listless. They had 
not been sufficiently hardened for jungle 
operations and, with few exceptions, had 
not been fresh when they reached the com- 
bat zone. Thrown into battle in an ex- 
hausted state, most of them had had no 
chance to rest since. The loss of the 126th 
Infantry to the Australians on 1 9 November 
had left General Harding without a reserve. 
Nor had the return of the far-from-fresh 2d 
Battalion to his command on 23 November 
remedied the situation, for the battalion was 
immediately incorporated into Urbana 
Force, and the division still had no reserve. 



1 Interv, Louis Morton with Gen Sutherland, 
Washington, D. C, 12 Nov 46; Intervs with Gen 
Eichelberger, 20 Nov 48, 6 Feb 50, 12 May 50; 
Interv with Gen Ghamberlin, 14 Jan 50; Kenney, 
General Kenney Reports, pp. 150-151, 154, 156- 
157. 



As General Harding explained the matter 
to General Herring the men, especially 
during the first five days of combat, had 
been without rest, and every combat ele- 
ment had, during that time, been "to 
all intents and purposes continuously 
engaged." 2 

The troops were half-starved. Most of 
them had been living on short rations for 
weeks and their food intake since the fight- 
ing began had averaged about a third of a 
C ration per day — just enough to sustain 
life. 3 They were shaggy and bearded and 
their clothes were ragged. Their feet were 
swollen and in bad shape. Their shoes, 
which had shrunk in the wet, often had to 
be cut away so that the troops could even 
get their feet into them. 

The men had very little tentage to pro- 
tect themselves from the heavy rains. Those 
who had lost or thrown away their shelter 
halves during the approach march were 
still without them and had to sleep in the 
open. Quinine sulphate, salt tablets, vitamin 
pills, and chlorination pellets were in short 
supply, and sicknesses — malaria, "jungle 



' Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen Herring, 28 Nov 42, 
copy in OCMH files. 

3 Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen Herring, 28 Nov 42; 
Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 3 Dec 42 ; 
Ltr, Lt Col Herbert M. Smith to author, 16 Mar 
50; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 17. 



I CORPS REACHES THE FRONT 



197 



rot," dengue fever, and dysentery — were 
beginning to take an increasing toll. 4 

Dysentery was the most widespread afflic- 
tion. Tainted rations, the long periods that 
the troops had gone without food, and the 
lack of sterilizing equipment had all con- 
tributed to that result. There were those 
who were careless with their drinking water, 
but they were a small minority. 5 The fact 
was that even those who were extremely 
careful caught the disease. Thus, Colonel 
MacNab recalls that although he never 
drank water that was not chlorinated he 
"suffered from dysentery as much as any of 
the troops." 

The troops were having trouble with their 
weapons, partly because of the wet, but 
mostly because they were not getting gun 
oil, patches, and other cleaning aids. The 
Mi's had been issued without oil and thong 
cases. Though gun oil was reaching the 
front it arrived in large containers that made 
wide distribution of it impracticable, with 
the result that some of the troops had to go 
completely without oil for considerable 
periods of time. Their weapons therefore — 
especially the BAR's and machine guns — 
kept jamming. 

There were other serious supply defi- 
ciencies. Spare parts and rifle clips were 
hard to come by, and the troops frequently 



' Msg, Gen Harding to Maj Birkness, Ser 191 1, 2 
Dec 42, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; Interv with Maj Odell, 
14 Dec 50; Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 
20 Jan 50; Lt Col Francis L. De Pasquale, MC Med 
Hist 32d Div, 1-30 Jan 43. Although there are no 
sickness figures for this period, the fact that the 
troops were rapidly sickening at this time was com- 
mon knowledge, and the final figures compiled at 
the end of the campaign suggest that a substantia] 
portion of the command was already affected. 

' Ltr, Col Carl Hanna, MC, to author, 14 Oct 50: 
Interv with Maj Odell, 14 Dec 50; Ltr, Maj Gen 
Clarence A. Martin to Gen Ward, 6 Mar 51. 

"Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 15 Nov 49. 



ran short of ammunition, especially mortar 
shells. Some had lost their intrenching tools, 
and so disrupted was supply that they had 
not been replaced. 7 

Morale was low. Instead of being met, as 
they had been led to expect, by a few hun- 
dred sick and starving Japanese, they found 
themselves facing apparently large numbers 
of fresh, well-fed, well-armed troops in 
seemingly impregnable positions, against 
whom in almost two weeks of fighting they 
had failed to score even one noteworthy 
success. 8 

Most frustrating of all, however, was the 
realization that they did not have the proper 
weapons to reduce the bunkers that stood 
in their way. They were without tanks, 
grenade launchers, or flame throwers, and 
mortars, artillery, and air bombardment 
seemed to have no effect on the enemy's 
formidable bunker positions. About the 
only method they could use to reduce the 
enemy bunkers was to crawl forward as 
close as the Japanese protective fire would 
allow and then make a sudden rush in the 
hope of getting close enough to push hand 
grenades through the firing slits. This was a 
course in which, as one who was present was 
to observe, "Many more failed than suc- 
ceeded, but for the most part, there was no 
other way." 9 



7 Tel Msg, 1st Lt John E. Harbert, Ord Off, to 
32d Div, Ser 1412, 25 Nov 42; Msg, 32d Div to 
NGF, Ser 1681, Nov 42. Both in 32d Div G-2, G-3 
Jnl. Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 8 
Dec 42; Ltr, Lt Col Herbert M. Smith to author, 
26 Jun 50; Maj Parker's Buna Rpt. 

8 Memo, Col Reeder, WDGS, for Col Ritchie, 
Chief, Southwest Pacific Gp, OPD WDGS, 22 Feb 
43, sub: Observer Interrogations of Officers at 
Buna and Sanananda, in OPD 381, PTO Sec 4; 
Col Hale, Answers to Questions by Hist Sec, GHQ 
SWPA, As to Certain Phases of the Papuan Cam- 
paign; Col Knight's Buna Rpt; Col Handy's Buna 
Rpt. 

" Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. 



198 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




FIRST AID STATION, SIMEMI, November 1942. 



Supply 

Adequate supply, a basic ingredient of 
good morale, was simply out of the question 
at Buna during the latter part of November 
and the first few days of December, for the 
Japanese by the end of November had suc- 
ceeded in cutting the division's supply line 
by sea. The division had had six luggers in 
operation on 21 November, but only one 
was still making the run on the 28th. The 
rest had either broken up on the reefs or 
been destroyed by the enemy. Everything 
now depended on the airlift, which was still 
too small to fill more than a fraction of the 



division's needs. By the end of the month, 
less than sixty tons of freight had been 
brought in by air — about the equivalent of 
what one lugger could bring in two trips. 50 
With air space strictly limited, there had 
been a mad scramble for priorities, and the 
division, intent on getting enough food and 
ammunition to the troops to keep the fight- 
ing going, found itself competing for space 
with its supporting elements. In a message to 
Major Birkness at Port Moresby, Col. Jo- 
seph S. Bradley, Division G— 4, wrote that 



10 Msg, 32d Div to CG, COSG, Ser 1634, 28 Nov 
42, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 32d Div, Rear Eche- 
lon Rec of Air Shipments. 



I CORPS REACHES THE FRONT 



199 




FIRST AID STATION, HARIKO, November 1942. 



the "many priorities by the medics, antiair- 
craft people, engineers, and others are caus- 
ing essential chow and ammunition for the 
fighting men to be held up." He closed his 
message with the plea that Birkness lose no 
time in bringing the difficulty "to the atten- 
tion of the Big Boys." 11 

General Harding described the situation 
to General Herring in succinct fashion on 28 
November. "Everything," he wrote, "had 
been going beautifully until November the 
16th, the day they blitzed the four ships, all 



11 Msg, Col Joseph S. Bradley to Maj Birkness, 
Scr 1472, 26 Nov 42, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. 



of which were loaded with supplies and am- 
munition." Since then, he added, everything 
had been on a "hand-to-mouth, catch-as- 
catch-can basis." Nor had the situation im- 
proved with the arrival of new luggers on the 
21st. 

. . . The little ship situation [General 
Harding continued] has gone from bad to 
worse. One went on the reefs a little while ago, 
another got stuck on a sandbar on the 25th, 
and was bombed by the Japs the following 
day, and three more have been shot up and 
bombed while at anchor, one at Mendaropu, 
one off Ernbogu, and one yesterday in Oro 
Bay. That finishes the Red Arrow freighters. 
There's nothing left except one small craft 



200 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




1 14TH ENGINEER BATTALION builds a corduroy road with the help of natives. 



with a kicker that will make about two 
knots. . . P 

Though the division now had to get al- 
most all of its supplies from Dobodura, the 
process was difficult because no roads ex- 
isted between the airfield and the front suit- 
able for the use of vehicles. The engineers 
were building a jeep track between Dobo- 
dura and Simemi to speed up the transfer of 
material to the front lines, but there were 
not enough engineer troops and engineer 
tools in the area to do the job quickly. Until 
the road was completed, native carriers, too 
few for the task, had to carry the supplies 



11 Ltr, Gen Harding to Gen Herring, 28 Nov 42, 
copy in OCMH files. 



forward from Dobodura on their backs. Be- 
cause the carriers would not go into the 
front lines, it became necessary to use com- 
bat troops to complete the deliveries. 13 

The Question of Additional Support 

General Harding had little luck in his 
pleas for additional support. When he asked 
for tanks he had been promised Bren gun 
carriers, but even the carriers had not ar- 

13 Tel Msg, 1st Lt Clifton P. Hannum, S-3, 1st 
Bn, 126th Inf, to 32d Div, Ser 1501, 26 Nov 42; 
Rad, Gen Harding to Maj Birkness, Ser 1644, 28 
Nov 42; Msg, Gen Harding to NGF, Ser 1908, 2 
Dec 42. All in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. Maj Parker's 
Buna Rpt ; 1 14th Engr Bn AAR, Papuan Campaign; 
Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 39. 



I CORPS REACHES THE FRONT 



201 



rived. When he asked for ten more artillery 
pieces, he was promised four — sometime in 
December. 14 When he asked for all or part 
of the 127th Infantry (which had finally 
reached Port Moresby on Thanksgiving 
Day), General Herring had disapproved 
the request with the remark, "I cannot see 
what it is needed for, as you seem to have 
ample reserves." 15 

On 29 November Harding moved his 
headquarters from Embogo to Dobodura. 
The next day he had an opportunity to 
renew his plea for additional support. Not 
only did General Herring visit him, but 
General Sutherland flew in from Port 
Moresby. 

Herring, who had just opened his head- 
quarters at Popondetta, reached Dobodura 
by air early in the morning of the 30th, 
ahead of Sutherland. After the usual ameni- 
ties, the two generals seated themselves on 
some empty ammunition boxes and 
plunged into a discussion devoted princi- 
pally to Harding's request for the 127th 
Infantry. 

After expressing his dissatisfaction over 
the diversion to General Vasey of Colonel 
Tomlinson's 126th Infantry troops, and 
getting no promise of their return, Harding 
began to press Herring for at least part of 
the 1 27th Infantry. This is the way Harding 
reported the discussion in his diary, 

The chief topic we discussed was the bring- 
ing in of part or all of the 127th Infantry. In 
one of his letters to me, General Herring had 
stated that he disapproved of previous re- 
quests that part or all of the regiment be 



thrown in, on the ground that we had plenty 
of reserves. I explained somewhat heatedly, 
that we had no reserves, and I argued to the 
best of my ability for additional troops, not 
to relieve those in the line, but to strike in 
another quarter. General Herring remained 
unconvinced of the need or desirability of the 
proposed move despite all my protestations. 16 

Recalling the matter, Harding was to 
write : 

I tried to give Herring the picture by letter, 
radio, and finally face to face, but he never 
seemed to get it. He was a gentleman ... a 
scholar, and a pretty good guy withal, but his 
heart, I am sure, was with the Australians. 
He seemed to take an almost detached view 
of the trials and tribulations of my ail-Ameri- 
can contingent. I felt all along that he had 
very little scope for independent decision. 17 

Harding and Herring were still discuss- 
ing the problem when Sutherland arrived. 
Sutherland was also opposed to bringing in 
the regiment. His argument was that the 
problem of supplying the troops already in 
the area was taxing the transport facilities 
of the air force to the utmost, and that it 
would be unwise to bring in more troops 
until a stockpile had been built up at Dobo- 
dura. General Harding then pleaded for at 
least one battalion of the 127th Infantry to 
strike in a new quarter, but General Suther- 
land was adamant. The supply level would 
have to be raised, he said, before such a 
move could be considered. A further re- 
quest by Harding that Colonel Tomlinson 
be returned to him was also refused. Gen- 
eral Harding, who did not take kindly to 
these refusals, considered that he had been 
given "the brush-off." 18 



"Msg, NGF to 32d Div, Ser 1768, 29 Nov 42, 16 Gen Harding's Diary, 30 Nov 42. 

in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. 17 Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 24 Jul 51. 

15 Ltr, Gen Herring to Gen Harding, 28 Nov 42, 18 Gen Harding's Diary, 30 Nov 42 ; Interv with 

copy in OCMH files. Gen Harding, 9 Dec 47. 



202 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



General Eichelberger 
Is Ordered Forward 

General Sutherland 
Stays for Lunch 

At the close of the discussion General 
Herring flew back to Popondetta, and Gen- 
eral Sutherland, who had more to say, 
stayed for lunch. During the course of the 
meal, Harding again pressed him about the 
127th Infantry. 

... I asked [he noted in his diary] if the 
Australians were going to use it on the other 
side of the river. His reply was startling. He 
said that that had been discussed, and that 
Blarney had spoken disparagingly of the fight- 
ing qualities of the American troops, and told 
MacArthur that he preferred to use his militia 
brigade in that quarter. He had also dropped 
one or two remarks to the effect that the 
Americans weren't showing the fight they 
should. I told him that anyone who thought 
that didn't know the facts — that while we 
hadn't made much progress, it wasn't because 
we weren't in there fighting, and I reminded 
him that our casualties would testify to the 
hard fighting that had been going on. 19 

General Blarney had indeed spoken dis- 
paragingly to General MacArthur of the 
performance of the 3 2d Division. The 
conversation had taken place five days be- 
fore at Government House, General Mac- 
Arthur's headquarters at Port Moresby. 
General Kenney, who had been present 
( and had made a note of General Blarney's 
remarks) , felt that it had been "a bitter pill 
for General MacArthur to swallow." 2(1 It 
must have been, for it was about this time, 



" Gen Harding's Diary, 30 Nov 42. The militia 
brigade was Brigadier Porter's Infantry Brigade, 
whose 39 Battalion had performed with such dis- 
tinction in the Owen Stanleys. 

20 Kenney, General Kenney Reports, p. 153. 



as General Kenney recalls further, that Gen- 
eral MacArthur "began to be worried 
about the caliber of his infantry." Stories 
that American troops were fighting badly 
and that some had even thrown away their 
machine guns and fled in panic from the 
enemy were reaching headquarters, 21 as 
were observers' reports which were dis- 
tinctly unfavorable in tone. The observers 
noted that the troops and their officers 
seemed to lack aggressiveness, that many of 
the junior leaders did not seem to know their 
business, and that "too many" commanders 
were trying to conduct operations from a 
command post. At least one of the observers 
seems to have gone so far as to say that 
the 32d Division would not fight. 22 

Matters came to a head when Colonel 
Larr, General Chamberlin's deputy, visited 
the front on 27 and 28 November and re- 
turned to Port Moresby with an extremely 
adverse report on conditions there. 23 Gen- 
eral Sutherland, whose visit was apparently 
occasioned by Larr's report, mentioned it to 
Harding during lunch. He told Harding 
that because of its unfavorable tone General 
MacArthur had sent for General Eichel- 



2i Ibid., pp. 150, 154, 156, 157. The incident 
which had given rise to t hese stor ies occurred on 
24 November (see above, fp. lB6b The units in- 
volved were Company E, 128th Infantry, and the 
Weapons Platoon of Company G, 128th Infantry, 
then in their first day of combat. 

22 Col Knight's Buna Rpt. Colonel Knight sum- 
marizes these unfavorable reports without men- 
tioning specifically who originated them. 

23 Gen Harding's Diary, 30 Nov 42; Interv with 
Gen Harding, 9 Dec 47: Interv with Gen Eichel- 
berger, 6 Feb 50 ; Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 24 
Jul 51. Larr's report was apparently by word of 
mouth, since the G-3 files for the period contain 
no written report on the subject. The author's 
knowledge of its content comes from the sources 
cited above. No confirmation could be secured from 
Colonel Larr on the subject since he was dead at 
the time that the chapter was written. 



I CORPS REACHES THE FRONT 



203 



berger and would probably order him to 
the front. Sutherland then asked Harding 
(whose two field commanders, Colonels 
Mott and Hale, were ill-regarded by both I 
Corps and GHQ) whether he intended to 
make any changes in his top command." 4 

Though Harding knew that Mott had a 
"notable talent for antagonizing superiors, 
subordinates, and contemporaries," i5 and 
was not particularly impressed with Colonel 
Hale's ability as a regimental commander, 26 
he nevertheless replied in the negative. 
Mott, he pointed out, appeared to be doing 
an excellent job on the Urbana front and, 
while he "frankly . . . questioned whether 
Hale had the qualifications to lead a regi- 
ment in battle," he considered that he was 
"doing fairly well in the only chance he 
had had to show his stuff." 27 

Harding's reply apparently was enough 
for General Sutherland. The latter returned 
to Port Moresby that same afternoon, 30 
November, and recommended to General 
MacArthur that General Harding be re- 
lieved at once on the ground that he in- 
sisted on keeping in command subordinates 
whose competence was open to question.' 8 



21 Gen Harding's Diary, 30 Nov 42: Interv with 
Gen Harding, 9 Dec 47. 

!5 Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 24 Jul 51. More 
to the point, he also knew that Mott and Larr were 
openly antagonistic and had been for some time. 

16 Interv with Gen Harding, 9 Dec 47. 

"Gen Harding's Diary, 30 Nov 42. General 
Harding's feeling in the matter was that Hale, as his 
last regimental commander from the National 
Guard, in a division in which the bulk of the officers 
were from the Guard, should be given a chance to 
show what he could do, especially since Colonel 
MacNab, who was on the ground, could be trusted 
to keep him out of trouble. Interv with Gen Hard- 
ing, 9 Dec 47. 

2S Interv, Louis Morton with Gen Sutherland, 12 
Nov 46. 



General Eichelberger Is 
Given His Orders 

As Sutherland had told Harding, Gen- 
eral MacArthur had already ordered Gen- 
eral Eichelberger to Port Moresby. 29 Eichel- 
berger was at Rockhampton training the 
41st Division in jungle warfare at the time 
the summons was received. It was 29 No- 
vember, a summery and quiet Sunday, 
the last quiet day General Eichelberger 
was to enjoy for a long time. There 
were two messages. The first was an alert- 
ing order from General Chamberlin at 
Brisbane telling Eichelberger to stand by 
and advising him that if it was decided that 
he and a small staff were to go to Port 
Moresby he would be told that night. Late 
at night the second message came ordering 
them to go. By that time General Eichel- 
berger, Brig. Gen. Clovis E. Byers, his chief 
of staff, six staff officers, his aide, and nine 
enlisted men, mostly clerks, were packed and 
ready. They took off in two C-47's for Port 
Moresby early the next morning, 30 Novem- 
ber, and, after an uneventful flight over 
the Coral Sea, landed at Seven Mile Air- 
drome late in the afternoon. They were met 
at the airstrip by Colonel Larr, who told 

! ° Eichelberger, promoted to lieutenant general on 
15 October 1942, had been at Port Moresby in mid- 
November to observe the 32d Division in action. 
He had been ordered back to Australia before the 
fight for the beachhead began in order to prepare 
a camp for the 25th U.S. Infantry Division, which 
was then on the alert for movement to Australia 
from Hawaii. The mission had come to nothing 
since the dh'ision had been diverted at the last 
moment to Guadalcanal in order to make possible 
the relief of the 1st Marine Division and its transfer 
to Australia for rest and rehabilitation. Ltr, 
CINCSWPA to CG USASOS et al, 22 Nov 42, 
sub: Reinforcements, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; 
Msgs, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, No. 3874, 
CM-OUT 6906, 23 Nov 42; No. 4131, CM-OUT 
9526, 30 Nov 42: Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 
21 Nov 48. 



204 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Eichelberger that he would be given four or 
five days to be briefed on the situation at 
Buna before he and his staff went over the 
mountains. 

Eichelberger and Byers were given 
quarters at Government House, General 
MacArthur's headquarters, a comfortable 
sprawling place, which in prewar days had 
been the official residence of the lieutenant 
governor of Papua. They had scarcely 
reached their rooms when they were or- 
dered to report to General MacArthur im- 
mediately. The two officers preserved a 
vivid recollection of what followed. They 
found General MacArthur with Generals 
Kenney and Sutherland on the long breezy 
veranda at the front of the house. General 
Kenney gave them a welcoming smile when 
they were ushered into MacArthur's pres- 
ence, but General Sutherland, who had 
come in earlier in the afternoon with the 
news that General Harding had no intention 
of relieving his subordinate commanders, 
sat at a desk, stern and unsmiling. 30 Aware 
that General Sutherland had just returned 
from Dobodura, General Eichelberger, who 
had been surprised at the abruptness of the 
summons to report to General MacArthur, 
was surprised no longer. It was plain to see, 
he wrote later on, that Sutherland's report 
had been the cause. 31 

Striding up and down the veranda, grim 
and intense, General MacArthur without 
preliminary plunged into the matter at hand. 
American troops, he told the officers, had 
dropped their weapons and run from the 
enemy. He had never been so humiliated 
in his life, and it was the kind of thing that 
he would not stand for. Harding, he said, 
had failed and the blame for what had hap- 

30 Interv with Gen Eichelberger and Maj Gen 
Clovis E. Byers, 1 Jun 50. 

31 Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 2 1. 



pened was his. 32 What was needed at Buna, 
he told Eichelberger, was aggressive leader- 
ship. He knew, he continued, that the troops 
were not trained for operations in the jun- 
gle, that they were sick, and that the cli- 
mate was wearing them down, but he was 
convinced that "a real leader could take 
these same men and capture Buna." 33 

General MacArthur told Eichelberger 
that he was to relieve Harding and his sub- 
ordinate commanders, "or," he flung out, 
"I will relieve them myself and you too." 
"Time was of the essence," he said, for the 
Japanese might land reinforcements "any 
night." Continuing his restless pacing up 
and down the veranda, he told Eichelberger, 
"Go out there, Bob, and take Buna or don't 
come back alive." Then pointing to General 
Byers, he added, "And that goes for your 
chief of staff, Clovis, too." 

MacArthur went on to tell Eichelberger 
and Byers that he knew his staff thought 
they should have four or five days to be 
briefed on the situation before they went 
over the mountains. Things, however, were 
too serious for that, and he would therefore 
give them not even one day. They were to 
get ready immediately and leave for Buna 
in the morning. 34 

General Eichelberger 's First 
Day at Buna 

Subsequent briefings and conferences 
lasted far into the night. In the morning, 
immediately after breakfast, General Eich- 



33 Interv with Gens Eichelberger and Byers, 1 
Jun 50. 

33 Kenney, General Kenney Reports, p. 157. The 
author's interview with Generals Eichelberger and. 
Byers, and interviews with General Eichelberger 
alone are to the same effect. 

34 Interv with Gens Eichelberger and Byers, 1 
Jun 50. 



I CORPS REACHES THE FRONT 



205 



elberger and his party left for Buna. 35 They 
landed at Dobodura at 0958, and, at 1300, 
General Eichelberger, as commander of I 
Corps, assumed command of all U.S. troops 
in the Buna Area. 36 

Harding, who had been in the midst of a 
letter to General Sutherland when Eichel- 
berger and the corps staff arrived, noted in 
his diary that night : 

Eichelberger had come fresh from the pres- 
ence of MacArthur who had given him an 
earful of instructions concerning what he, 
Eichelberger, was expected to do. First of all, 
he was to take command of American troops 
in the sector. I wasn't sure just where that 
left me, but I gathered MacArthur was much 
dissatisfied with way things were going. 
Among other things, he had told Eichelberger 
that he was to take Buna or die before it. 37 

After explaining how General MacAr- 
thur felt about the situation at Buna, Eich- 
elberger asked Harding what changes he 
proposed making in his command in order 
to get things moving. When Harding replied 
that he intended to relieve no one and that 
most of his commanders deserved to be dec- 
orated not relieved, Eichelberger pushed the 
matter no further. He decided to spend the 
day at Dobodura, find out what he could 
there, and inspect the front the following 
day. Two of his staff officers, Col. Clarence 



35 MacArthur was at breakfast. In contrast to his 
mood of the afternoon before, he was relaxed and 
affable. He told Eichelberger to take good care of 
himself for he was "no use to him dead" — a state- 
ment that General Kenney in General Kenney Re- 
ports claims (apparently in error) he made the day 
before. When breakfast was over, MacArthur drew 
Eichelberger to one side, promised to decorate him 
if he took Buna, and told him, in effect, that he was 
to take the place regardless of casualties. Interv 
with Gens Eichelberger and Byers, 1 Jun 50. 

"Rpt, CG, Buna Forces, p. 19. 

" Gen Harding's Diary, 1 Dec 42. 



A. Martin, his G— 3, and Col. Gordon Rog- 
ers, his G— 2, would observe the attack on 
the Warren front, while he himself would 
observe it on the Urbana front. 36 

That night General Eichelberger wrote 
to General Sutherland that, to judge from 
what he heard during the day, things did 
not appear to be as bad as he had been led 
to expect. Colonel Mott, for instance, was 
reporting progress, and seemed to be within 
a hundred yards of Buna Village. Eichel- 
berger referred to a conversation that he 
had had that day with Brig. R. N. L. Hop- 
kins, General Herring's chief of staff. 
Hopkins, he said, had stated that General 
Herring wanted Buna Mission taken and 
was not particularly interested in the capture 
of Buna Village. "I told him," General 
Eichelberger wrote, "that I had directed, 
prior to seeing him, that Buna Village be 
captured tonight, and while I was anxious 
to get in Buna Mission, I did not want to 
leave the force in Buna Village on our front 
and rear." 

"I shall go forward in the morning," 
General Eichelberger continued, "to gain 
a first hand knowledge of the situation." 
While he was not willing to admit anything, 
he said, until he had "personally surveyed 
the situation well forward," he neverthe- 
less felt that he could already recommend 
the dispatch to the beachhead of "at least 
one battalion less two companies of the 



39 Interv with Gen Eichelberger 31 May 50; 
Interv with Gens Eichelberger and Byers, 1 Jun 50; 
Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 18 Oct 51; Rpt, CG 
Buna Forces, p. 19; Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road 
to Tokyo, p. 25. General Eichelberger's decision had 
first been to send Colonel Rogers and Lt. Col. Frank 
S. Bowen, Jr., the assistant G-3, to the Warren 
front, but at the last moment he substituted Martin 
for Bowen. Ltr, Gen Martin to Gen Ward, 6 Mar 
51. 



206 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



127th Infantry, because we may need a 
fresh impetus to carry into Buna Village." 39 

Buna Operations: 1 and 2 December 
The Urbana Front 

The night of 30 November-1 December 
had been an uneasy one on the Urbana 
front. (See Map 10.) The 25-pounders and 
the mortars had laid down a desultory fire 
on Buna Village, and a few unarmed Japa- 
nese were killed trying to get back to the 
large grassy strip where the headquarters 
area had been, in an effort apparently to 
recover some of the food and weapons left 
there. There was actually little action during 
the night, but the exhausted troops, who 
were expecting a counterattack, got little 
real rest. 

In the morning Urbana force made an- 
other attempt to take Buna Village. De- 
tachments from the Headquarters Com- 
panies of both 2d Battalions, and a section 
of machine guns from Company H, 126th 
Infantry, were sent forward to reinforce 
Company E, 1 26th Infantry. This time the 
plan was to move on Buna Village through 
the relatively open area just below the 
bridge over the Girua River, instead of di- 
rectly up the main track. The attempt was 
preceded by fire from the 25-pounders at 
Ango and from all the available 60-mm. and 
81 -mm, mortars in battery, the latter being, 
as before, under Captain Hantlemann of 
Company H. At the start the action went 
well, and several bunkers were knocked out. 
Then, just as the troops seems to be on the 
point of going through, Company E, instead 
of continuing to press forward, withdrew. 



Whether it did so because there was a 
mixup in signals or because the men 
were "jumpy," Colonel Mott was unable to 
ascertain. 4 ' 

Although his front line was now less than 
300 yards from Buna Village, Colonel Mott 
decided to make no further attacks that day. 
His plan was to attack again in the morn- 
ing with the aid of the Cannon Company, 
128th Infantry, which had meanwhile been 
promised him by General Harding. 41 

There was intermittent firing during the 
night, most of it by enemy mortars and ma- 
chine guns. A few Japanese again tried, 
unsuccessfully, to reach the large grassy 
strip. Otherwise, the night was quiet and 
the troops got a little rest. 

By the following morning Colonel Mott 
had available for the attack on the village 
Companies E and H, 126th Infantry, the 
Cannon Company, and a platoon of Com- 
pany F, 128th Infantry, which he had or- 
dered up from the other side of the Girua 
River. He had also the eight additional 
mortars that General Harding, true to his 
promise, had rushed to him. 

At 0950 the artillery opened a heavy con- 
centration of fire on the bunkers holding up 
the advance. The artillery was followed by 
Captain Hantlemann's massed 60-mm. and 
81 -mm. mortars. The artillery fire was ac- 
curate, and the mortar barrage intense and 



30 Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 1 
Dec 42, copy in OCMH files. 



,0 Col Mott's Memo. Pvt. John E. Combs of 
Company E distinguished himself on this day for a 
superb job of scouting, during the course of which 
he maneuvered himself behind an enemy bunker 
that had been holding up the advance, killed twelve 
Japanese single-handed, and enabled his platoon 
to take the position. For this exploit, Combs was 
later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The 
citation is in the GHQ SWPA, GO No. 1, 1 Jan 43. 

41 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 30 Nov 42, 1 Dec 42; 2d 
Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 2240, 1 Dec 42; Col Mott's 
Memo. 



I CORPS REACHES THE FRONT 



207 



well placed. As soon as the American in- 
fantrymen attempted to move forward, 
however, they were stopped by heavy bands 
of fire across every axis of approach. Col- 
onel Mott was again forced to call off the 
attack in order to give his battered troops at 
least one day's rest before they attacked 
again. 42 

Weakened by fever and suffering from 
hunger and exhaustion, the men by this time 
were in pitiable condition. Maj. Roger O. 
Egeberg, a visiting medical officer from 
Milne Bay, who saw the troops on 1 Decem- 
ber, reported to General Eichelberger in 
General Harding's hearing that they looked 
like "Christ off the Cross." 43 

As Colonel Mott observed, the men were 
suffering from the continuous round of fight- 
ing, lack of food, and lack of sleep, as well 
as from "the long marches and short rations 
on which they had been subsisting even 
before the fighting started." 44 An entry 
on 2 December in the journal of the 2d Bat- 
talion, 126th Infantry, made just after the 
Japanese had repulsed Company E's fifth 
attack on Buna reads, "The troops that we 
have left are weak and tired and need rest 
and reinforcement." 45 It was clear that un- 
til they got both, it would be impossible to 



42 Msgs, Gen Eichelberger to NGF, Sers 1882 and 
1933, 2 Dec 42 ; Msg, Urbana Force to 32d Div, Ser 
1898, 2 Dec 42. All in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. 2d 
Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 2 Dec 42; 2d Bn, 128th Inf, 
Jnl, 0030, 0954, 2 Dec. 42. Two men particularly 
distinguished themselves in the day's attack — Cap- 
tain Hantlemann, and 1st Lt. James I. Hunt of 
Battalion Headquarters Company, who at his own 
request led a platoon in the attack on the village. 
Each was later awarded the Distinguished Service 
Cross. The citations are in GHQ SWPA, GO No. 1, 
1 Jan 43. 

" Interv with Gen Harding, 9 Dec 47; Ltr, Gen 
Harding to author, 24 Jul 51. 
44 Col Mott's Memo. 
15 2d Bn, 1 26th Inf, Jnl, 2 Dec 42. 



close the last few yards between them and 
Buna Village. 

The Warren Front 

General Harding had already concluded 
that to attack Cape Endaiadere and the New 
Strip simultaneously was tactically unsound 
because the attacks from the eastern end of 
the New Strip were on divergent lines. He 
decided therefore to shift the main attack to 
the New Strip. At 1045 on 1 December he 
ordered Colonel Hale to stop pressing the 
attack on Cape Endaiadere and to lend all 
possible support instead to Colonel Carrier 
in an attack on the New Strip. One of Colo- 
nel McCoy's companies was to be left in 
place along the coastal track to hold the 
position there, and the other two companies 
were to support Colonel Carrier in his oper- 
ations against the strip. 46 

The plan of action, including air and ar- 
tillery support, called for Company B, 1 28th 
Infantry, to remain in position about 900 
yards south of Cape Endaiadere and to 
launch a series of demonstrations intended 
to deceive the enemy into thinking that the 
main Allied effort was still against the cape. 
The real attack would be against the New 
Strip. Its object was essentially exploratory : 
to discover a weak spot in the enemy line and 
to "go all out" if it found a hole. 47 

Company A, 128th Infantry, with Com- 
pany B, 126th Infantry, and what was left 
of Company C, 128th Infantry, would 
launch an east-west attack from the coastal 
flank toward the dispersal bays off the 



" 128th Inf Jnl, Ser 13, 1 Dec 42. 

17 128th Inf Jnl, Ser 20, 1 Dec 42; Overlay, 32d 
Div, 1 Dec 42, in 32d Div Overlays, Papuan Cam- 
paign; 32d Div Sitrep, No. 77, 2 Dec 42; Ltr, Col 
MacNab to author, 15 Nov 49; Ltr, Col Hale to 
Gen Harding, 7 Nov 49, copy in OCMH files. 



208 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



eastern end of the strip. At the other end 
of the strip, Company A, 126th Infantry, 
would join Company I, 128th Infantry, in 
an attack on the bridge between the strips. 
The 2/6 Australian Independent Company 
would patrol the area facing the strip and 
serve to connect the forces attacking at its 
other end. The drive from east to west 
would be under command of Colonel Mc- 
Coy; that from south to north, under 
Colonel Carrier. 48 

The air strafing and bombing of Buna 
Village, the New Strip, and the bridge be- 
tween the strips took place between 0800 
and 0815, and most of the bombs hit the 
target area. The last flight, however, forgot 
to drop flares (the prearranged signal that 
the air bombing was over ) , and the ar- 
tillery and mortars as a result took up the 
bombardment only after an appreciable in- 
terval. The troops, who had pulled back 
temporarily to avoid being hit by friendly 
fire, jumped off at 0830 but made little 
progress. Colonel Yamamoto's troops had 
not been taken in by the feint of Company 
B, 1 28th Infantry, toward Cape Endaiadere. 
When the bombing began, they took shel- 
ter in the bunkers. When it was over, they 
emerged from their shelters and laid down 
such heavy fire that the advance stalled 
almost immediately and soon came to a 
complete halt. 

The results of the day's fighting were not 
encouraging. The heat was intense, and 
there were as many casualties from heat 
prostration as from enemy fire. The troops 
on Colonel McCoy's front knocked out only 



18 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 450, 459, 1 Dec 42; 
1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 11, 19, 22, 23, 1 Dec 
42; 128th Inf Jnl, Sers 11, 18, 19, 22, 23, 1 Dec 
42; 32d Div Sitrep, No. 77, 2 Dec 42; Ltr, Col 
Hale to Gen Harding, 7 Nov 49 ; Ltr, Col MacNab 
to author, 1 5 Nov 49. 



a few bunkers before they were completely 
stopped by the enemy. On Colonel Carrier's 
front the troops initially registered small 
gains, only to be stopped in their turn by 
flanking machine gun fire from positions in 
the western part of the strongpoint between 
the strips. The attack on the Warren front 
had once again been a failure. 49 

General Harding's Relief 
I Corps Inspects the Front 

For the Corps inspection of 2 December, 
General Eichelberger, accompanied by his 
aide, Capt. Daniel K. Edwards, General 
Harding, General Waldron, and several 
others, left Dobodura for the Urbana front 
at 0930. Half an hour later Colonel Martin 
and Rogers left for the Warren front. Both 
parties were able to go only a short distance 
by jeep; the rest of the way, they had to go 
on foot. 

General Eichelberger's party reached its 
destination first. Just before it arrived at the 
front, Eichelberger stopped at the Urbana 
force aid station. There he found a number 
of unwounded men who had been sent to 
the rear for a few days to recover from 
dengue fever or exhaustion. Some had 



"Tel Msg, Col Hale to Gen Byers, Ser 1897, 2 
Dec 42, in 32d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 1st Bn, 126th 
Inf, Jnl, Sers 454 through 465, 2 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 
128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 9, 15, 17, 24, 51, 72, 2 Dec 42: 
128th Inf Jnl, Sers 4, 9, 10, 15, 27, 42, 46, 2 Dec 
42 ; 32d Div Sitreps, No. 78, 2 Dec 42 ; No. 79, 3 
Dec 42; Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 15 Nov 49. 
During the day's operations, S. Sgt. Delmar H. 
Daniels, of Company B, 126th Infantry, led three 
volunteers against an enemy strongpoint near the 
dispersal bays at the eastern end of the strip, which 
had held up the company for some time, only to be 
killed as he attempted to clear out the enemy posi- 
tion. Daniels was posthumously awarded the Dis- 
tinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ 
SWPA GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43. 



I CORPS REACHES THE FRONT 



209 



cracked up in combat. 50 Eichelberger made 
it a point to question several of them closely 
as to why they were not at the front. The 
most common answer was that they had 
been sent to the rear for a rest, and the 
same answer was given by two or three other 
unwounded individuals closer to the front, 
who either were dozing at the roots of trees 
or were on their way to the aid station. 51 

The three generals reached Colonel 
Mott's command post at 1 140. The artillery 
was still firing, and it was hoped that this 
time the bunkers which had held up the 
previous attack would be destroyed. When 
the news came that the attack had failed, 
General Eichelberger announced that he was 
going forward to see for himself how things 
were. Ordering General Waldron to remain 
in the CP, he went up front. General Hard- 
ing, who refused to remain behind, went 
with him. The Japanese, after repulsing a 
whole series of attacks, were not firing, and 
the two generals were able to inspect the 
front line without drawing enemy fire. 52 

In General Harding's opinion, General 
Eichelberger had been in an exceedingly 
censorious mood before. Now he found a 
great deal to be angry about in his tour of 
the front. He had been told (and had in 
good faith reported to New Guinea Force) 
that there had been a strong Japanese 
counterattack. On questioning Major Smith 
he discovered that there had been no coun- 
terattack, only a feeble attempt by a few 
Japanese to get back into the main strip 



50 Gen Harding's Diary, 2 Dec 42; Col Mott's 
Memo. 

51 Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 31 May 50; Ltr, 
Gen Harding to author, 24 Jul 51. 

2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1140, 2 Dec 42; Gen 
Harding's Diary, 2 Dec 42: Col Mott's Memo; 
Interv with Gen Harding, 9 Dec 47; Interv with 
Gen Eichelberger, 21 Nov 48. 



southeast of the village. 53 He noticed both 
light and heavy machine guns standing 
in the open neither dug in nor concealed. 
Though he was to learn later what the men 
already knew, that fires made with wet 
jungle wood raised dense columns of smoke, 
he was extremely indignant when he discov- 
ered that the front-line troops, though raven- 
ously hungry, had not been permitted to 
cook some captured Japanese rice lest by 
doing so they draw enemy fire. He seemed 
to think that lack of aggressiveness kept the 
troops from firing and he was greatly ang- 
ered that, when he asked for volunteers to 
see what lay immediately ahead, the troops 
he spoke to did not respond. 34 

While General Eichelberger was ques- 
tioning the troops, he interviewed three ma- 
chine gunners on the front line. In response 
to his question, they told him that they knew 
that there was an enemy machine gun im- 
mediately ahead because it had opened fire 
only a few hours ago on the troops who tried 
to go that way. General Eichelberger asked 
if any of them had gone down the trail since 
that time to see if the machine gun was still 
there. The men said they had not. The gen- 
eral then offered to decorate the man who 
would go forward fifty yards to find out. 
Satisfied that the enemy weapon was still 
there, neither the gunners nor any of the 
other troops volunteered for the job. In- 
stead, Captain Edwards, the general's aide, 
using a different route and crawling on his 
belly, made his way to the outskirts of Buna 



53 Msg, Gen Eichelberger to NGF, Ser 1864, 1 
Dec 42, in 3 2d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; Ltr, Lt Col 
Herbert M. Smith to author, 16 Mar 50; Ltr, Gen 
Waldron to Gen Ward, 5 Mar 51. Smith did not 
know at the time that Colonel Mott had reported 
this minor brush with the enemy as a counterattack. 

"Gen Harding's Diary, 2 Dec 42; Col Mott's 
Memo; Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 21 Nov 48; 
Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 24 Jul 51. 



210 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Village and returned without being fired on, 
an exploit that only deepened the general's 
irritation with the troops over their failure 
to show any disposition to fight." 5 

The upshot was an angry scene in Colo- 
nel Mott's command post. General Eichel- 
berger (who told the troops later on that he 
had not realized at the time "what they were 
up against") had some "caustic comments" 
to make on what he had seen at the front/' 
He delivered pointed remarks on the un- 
wounded men at the aid station, the ex- 
posed machine guns, the apparent hesitancy 
to stir up enemy fire, and the failure of front- 
line troops to volunteer "even for a decora- 
tion." 57 At one point, he went so far as to 
say that he was not even sure that the troops 
had fought. Colonel Mott flared up at this. 
He spoke of the hardships his men had been 
through and argued vehemently in their de- 
fense — a point of view with which General 
Harding made it clear he agreed by demon- 
stratively dashing his cigarette to the ground 
when Mott finished speaking. 58 This is 
Mott's recollection of what followed : 



65 Gen Harding's Diary, 2 Dec 42; Col Mott's 
Memo; Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 21 Nov 48; 
Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 24 Jul 51. Edwards 
was later awarded the Silver Star. The citation is 
in Hq I Corps, GO No. 102, 4 Dec 42. 

50 Ltr, Lt Col Herbert M. Smith to author, 16 
Mar 50. Smith as commanding officer of the 2d 
Battalion, 126th Infantry was in the CP at the time 
and witnessed the scene. 

57 Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 31 May 50. 

BB Gen Harding's Diary, 2 Dec 42; Col Mott's 
Memo; Ltr, Gen Harding to author, 24 Jul 51; 
Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 21 Nov 48. That 
night General Harding wrote in his diary that in 
the light of his remarks General Eichelberger 
"showed no appreciation of what the men had 
been through, or the spirit shown by most of them 
in carrying on despite heavy casualties, the roughest 
kind of opposition, and the most trying conditions." 
Of Colonel Mott's outbursts, he wrote, "I approved 
of every word he said and of the vehemence with 
which he stated the case." 



His [General Eichelberger's] voice rose and 
he said, "You're licked," and indicated in va- 
rious ways that the troops had done a very 
poor job and included a great many cowards. 
After having observed General Eichelberger's 
manner, I refrained from further attempts to 
state my side of the case and that of the sol- 
diers under me, and shortly thereafter General 
Eichelberger . . . left my command post. 5 " 

Nor had the inspection gone much better 
on the Warren front. Colonels Martin and 
Rogers reached Colonel Hale's headquar- 
ters at Hariko about noon, after catching a 
lift part of the way to Simemi in a jeep. 
They left Hariko at 1410 and at 1528 had 
reached Colonel McCoy's command post. 
After a short visit there, they went forward 
with Colonel MacNab to the area off the 
eastern end of the New Strip. Before they 
came, the fighting had raged fiercely and 
every available man had been on the line. 
When they arrived, however, the action had 
died down to virtually nothing. 

There was no firing, and, as Martin re- 
calls, there were times when the front was 
"as quiet as the inside of an empty church." 
Having beaten off a succession of American 
attacks, the Japanese were resting and tak- 
ing things easy. They were not firing even 
on targets in plain view. Nor did the Ameri- 
cans seem anxious to stir up Japanese fire. 
After the bloody nose that the enemy had 
given them, they were content to let well 
enough alone and were using the respite to 
dig in, bring up supplies, and prepare for 
the next day's attack. Although Martin ad- 
mitted "in the light of subsequent knowl- 
edge" that the attacks could not possibly 
have succeeded even had they been "con- 
tinued throughout the day with the utmost 
vigor and daring," the total absence of fight- 



Col Mott's Memo. 



I CORPS REACHES THE FRONT 



211 



ing when the inspection team reached the 
front led the inspectors to wonder whether 
there had really been any fighting at all that 
day. 60 

The inspection team was particularly 
struck by the poor physical condition of the 
troops. Colonel Rogers (who subsequently 
put his criticism in writing) described their 
condition as "deplorable," and took special 
note of their dirty beards, ragged clothing, 
and worn-out shoes, and of the fact that 
they were not getting enough to eat. Colonel 
Martin noted that the morale of the troops 
was poor, that the men seemed to have a 
"sorry for ourselves" attitude, and that they 
appeared to be interested above all else in 
being relieved. Rogers was critical of Col- 
onel Hale for remaining too far behind the 
lines and thought it remarkable that there 
had been so little action at the front when 
the inspection team arrived. Martin was 
struck by the fact that unsanitary condi- 
tions had been allowed to develop at the 
front, and recalls seeing a great deal of 
unnecessary litter, quantities of unsalvaged 
equipment, and piles of empty ration tins 
swarming with flies. 01 

The two colonels were back at Colonel 
McCoy's CP by 1702, and left on foot for 
the rear at 1820. They reached Dobodura 
about 2200, to discover that General Eich- 
elberger had relieved General Harding only 
a short while before and that General Wal- 
dron was in command of the division. 62 



M 128th Inf Jnl, Sers 49, 54, 2 Dec 42: 1st Bn, 
128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 69, 70, 2 Dec 42; Ltr, Gen 
Martin to Gen Ward, 1 Mar 51 ; Eichelberger, Out 
Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 25. 

"Ltr, Gen Martin to Gen Ward, 6 Mar 51; 
Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 25. 

" 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 71, 73, 2 Dec 42; 
128th Inf Jnl, Sers 65, 67, 2 Dec 42; Ltr, Gen 
Martin to Gen Ward, 6 Mar 51. 



General Eichelberger Comes to a Decision 

General Eichelberger was well aware that 
General MacArthur had spoken in anger 
on 30 November when he ordered him to 
relieve Harding. As corps commander, Eich- 
elberger knew, he was under no obligation 
to take the step if he thought the relief un- 
necessary. After his visit to the Urbana 
front, he nevertheless concluded that Hard- 
ing would have to go. 63 That evening, shortly 
after his return from the front, he called in 
General Byers and other immediately avail- 
able members of the corps staff and told 
them how things had gone on the left flank. 
He described the scene in Colonel Mott's 
command post, informed them that General 
Harding had appeared to be in sympathy 
with Mott throughout, and asked them 
what they would do if they were in his 
place. The staff members present unani- 
mously told him that he had only one 
choice: to comply with General MacAr- 
thur's instructions and relieve Harding. 64 

Shortly after the staff meeting, General 
Harding approached General Eichelberger 
in his tent in order to discuss a new plan to 
take Buna. He described the plan, which en- 
visaged an air bombardment and an ar- 
tillery preparation, both co-ordinated on a 
split-section schedule with the infantry at- 
tack. General Waldron was in Eichelber- 
ger's tent at the time, and this, as Harding 
entered it in his diary that night, is what fol- 
lowed : 

Eichelberger listened but did not seem to 
be impressed. He had other matters on his 
mind, and I soon found out what they were. 



M Ltrs, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 3 
Dec 42, 9 Dec 42, copies in OCMH files. 

** Interv with Gens Eichelberger and Byers, 1 
Jun 50. 



212 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



He started talking about what he had found 
out that day that was allegedly wrong. I took 
issue on one or two points, and finally said, 
"You were probably sent here to get heads, 
maybe mine is one of them. If so, it is on the 
block." He said, "You are right, it was, and I 
am putting this man — pointing to Waldron — 
"in command of the division." I said. "I take 
it I am to return to Moresby." He said, "Yes." 
I stood up, and stepped outside the tent. 65 

The New Task Force Commanders 

As soon as General Harding left the tent, 
General Eichelberger offered to replace 
Colonel Hale with Colonel Martin, an offer 
that Waldron promptly accepted. 66 Some 
time later, while Waldron was still in Eichel- 
berger's tent, Colonel Martin and Colonel 
Rogers reported to General Eichelberger. 
On the way in, Martin had confided to 
Colonel Rogers that he thought the reason 
General Eichelberger had sent him to the 
Warren front in the first place was that he 
probably wanted him to take command 
there. Colonel Martin was nevertheless taken 
aback by what followed. For scarcely had 
he, as Roger's senior, started to give the re- 
port of what he had seen at the Warren 
front, when as he recalls, 

. . . General Eichelberger, turning to Gen- 
eral Waldron, stated rather than asked, "Shall 
we tell him now." Whereupon he turned again 

M Gen Harding's Diary, 2 Dec 42. 

M Ltr, Gen Waldron to Gen Ward, 5 Mar 51. 



to me and said, "Clarence, my boy, you have 
always said you would like to command a reg- 
iment. I am going to give you one. You will 
take command of the 128th Infantry and the 
Warren front. My conclusion . . . confided 
to Rogers . . . was confirmed. I immediately 
replied, "Yes, Sir, that is true, but I never 
imagined it would be under circumstances 
such as these." Then, I added, "Since I am to 
take command of the 128th Infantry I would 
prefer [that] Colonel Rogers made the re- 
port." Rogers then continued and made the 
report orally. We had just returned, it was 
dark, and there had been no time to write a 
report. 67 

General Harding's relief was followed the 
next day by that of Colonels Hale and Mott. 
Colonel Martin replaced Colonel Hale as 
commander of Warren Force, and Colonel 
McCreary took over from Colonel Mott as 
commander of Urbana Force. McCreary 
was replaced on 4 December by Col. John 
E. Grose, General Eichelberger's inspector 
general, whom Waldron accepted for the 
post after deciding that he needed McCreary 
to command the artillery." 8 

I Corps had taken over completely, and 
the responsibility for taking Buna was now 
General Eichelberger's. 



" Ltr, Gen Martin to Gen Ward, 6 Mar 51. 

w 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Ser 29, 3 Dec 42; 2d 
Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 3 Dec 42, 4 Dec 42; 128th Inf 
Jnl, Sers 16, 20, 3 Dec 42; Col Mott's Memo; Ltr, 
Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 3 Dec 42 ; Ltr, 
Gen Waldron to Gen Ward, 5 Mar 51. 



CHAPTER XII 



The Fighting West of the Girua 



The 900 men of Colonel Yazawa's 41st 
Infantry force, which had extricated itself 
from Oivi on 1 November and fled north- 
ward with General Horii along the west 
bank of the Kumusi River, reached the 
river's mouth twelve miles north of Gona to- 
ward the end of the month. While trying to 
cross the turbulent Kumusi on a raft, Gen- 
eral Horii and his chief of staff were 
drow ned at Pinga, west of Gona. (See Map 
III.) Otherwise the force was intact. Since 



Yazawa was in no position to fight his way 
down the coast, Colonel Yokoyama under- 
took to bring his force back into the battle 
area by sea. On 28 November Yokoyama 
sent all the landing craft he had to the 
mouth of the Kumusi. The craft picked up 
as much of Yazawa's force as they had space 
for, but most of the 1st Battalion, 41st In- 
fantry, was left behind. The boats were at- 
tacked on the way by Allied aircraft and 
several were sunk, but Yazawa and perhaps 
500 of his force reached Giruwa early on 
29 November, a welcome reinforcement for 
the hard-pressed beachhead garrison. 1 



1 Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 30 Nov 42; G-3 
Opns Rpt, No. 238, 30 Nov 42-1 Dec 42; Yoko- 
yama Force Buls, 26 Nov 42, 28 Nov 42, in ATIS 
EP 29; Msg, Col Tomita to CofS Army Hq, Rabaul, 
28 Nov 42, in ATIS CT 26; Yokoyama Force 
Orders No. A 12, 30 Nov 42, in ATIS CT 18, No. 
229; 17th Army Opns I, 129, 130; 18th Army 
Opns I, 15, 20, 23, 25. 



Operations in the Gona Area 

Fresh Japanese Troops 
Reach the Kumusi 

Rabaul, meanwhile, was making every 
effort to reinforce the beachhead. On 22 
November a fresh 18th Army unit, the 21st 
Independent Mixed Brigade, principally the 
170th Infantry Reinforced, arrived at 
Rabaul from Indochina under command of 
Maj. Gen. Tsuyuo Yamagata. The brigade, 
a former Indochina garrison unit without 
previous combat experience, was immedi- 
ately put on orders for Basabua but, because 
of the brightness of the moon, was held over 
at Rabaul for the better part of a week. 
The first echelon, totaling 800 men and con- 
sisting of General Yamagata, his staff, the 
1st Battalion, 170th Infantry, and a portion 
of the 1st Battalion, 38th Mountain Artil- 
lery, finally left Rabaul on the night of 28- 
29 November in four destroyers which made 
for Basabua via the northern route. Appar- 
ently thinking that the favorable moon and 
the speed and maneuverability of the de- 
stroyers would see them through, General 
Adachi (who had reached Rabaul only 
three days before) failed to provide the 
movement with air cover. This was a mis- 
take, as he was to discover early the next 
morning when Allied bombers hit the de- 
stroyers in Vitiaz Strait and damaged them 



214 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



so heavily that they were forced to return to 
Rabaul. 

By then the second echelon of Yamagata's 
Force, totaling about 800 men, was loaded 
and ready to go in four other destroyers. It 
consisted of the 3d Battalion, 170th Infan- 
try, less one company, and attached troops, 
including a complete headquarters com- 
munications unit. To save time, General 
Yamagata and his headquarters attached 
themselves to the 3d Battalion, and the con- 
voy left Rabaul late on 30 November, tak- 
ing the southern route through St. George's 
Channel. 

This time it had a strong fighter plane 
escort, mostly naval Zeros. About forty 
miles southeast of Gasmata, the ships were 
attacked by six B-l 7's, but the bombers were 
successfully intercepted by seventeen to 
twenty Zeros. Further attacks closer to Buna, 
first by four B-l 7's and then by six B-25's, 
were also intercepted, and the ships man- 
aged to reach the anchorage at Basabua 
safely before daybreak on 2 December. They 
did not remain long. Before they could even 
begin to unload, a heavy concentration of 
Allied aircraft struck at them and forced 
them to flee the anchorage. The ships moved 
north and began landing the troops by barge 
near the mouth of the Kumusi. Dropping 
flares because it was still dark, Allied planes 
dived in to disrupt the landing. They 
bombed and strafed ships and landing craft, 
but about 500 of the troops aboard and a 
large part of their supplies managed to reach 
shore. There they were joined by the 41st 
Infantry troops whom Colonel Yazawa had 
been forced to leave behind a few days 
before. 2 



Although General Yamagata was ashore 
and had a sizable force at his disposal, his 
troubles had only begun. With the Aus- 
tralians between him and Gona, his problem 
was no mean one. It was how to get his men 
south where they would be of use in the 
defense of the beachhead. 

The Fall of Gona 3 

The fighting at Gona had meanwhile en- 
tered its final stages, though the Australians 
were to suffer very heavy losses before they 
cleared the Japanese out of their burrows in 
the mission area. The 2/14 and 2/27 Bat- 
talions, the first units of the 21st Brigade to 
reach the Gona area, were committed to 
action there on the afternoon of 28 Novem- 
ber. A patrol of the 2/14 Battalion was sent 
to investigate a small creek on the beach 
half a mile east of the mission, from which it 
was planned that the battalion would at- 
tack t he next morning. (See photo, page 



148.) The patrol reported the area clear of 
the enemy, and the battalion at once began 
moving into position. When it broke out at 
dusk on the coast 200 yards east of the creek, 
it ran into a hornet's nest of opposition. 
From a network of concealed and well pre- 
pared positions the Japanese hit the battal- 
ion hard, inflicting thirty-two casualties on 
the Australians before they could disengage. 

The next day, after an air strike on known 
enemy positions east of the mission, the 2/27 
Battalion under its commander, Lt. Col. 
Geoffrey D. Cooper, moved into position 
west of the creek. Swinging wide through 
bush and swamp, the 2/ 14th, Lt. Col. Hugh 
B. Challen, commanding, debouched onto 



1 Allied Air Forces Opns Rpts, 28 Nov-3 Dec 42 ; 
G-2 Daily Summary Enemy Intel, No. 254, 1-2 
Dec 42; AMF, Interr Gen Adachi et al; 21st 1MB 
Troop List, in ATIS CT 18, No. 234; 17th Army 
Opns I, 131; 18th Army Opns I, pp. 19-24. 



3 Except where otherwise noted, this subsection is 
based on the official Australian manuscript history, 
McCarthy, The Southwest Pacific: The First Year, 
Gh. 16. 



THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 



215 



the beach several hundred yards east of the 
creek. The 2 /27th was to attack westward 
along the beach, and the 2 /14th, in addition 
to clearing out any remaining opposition 
east of the creek, was to send a detachment 
eastward to deny the enemy the anchorage 
at Basabua. 

The 2 /27th was slow in moving forward. 
When it finally attacked, it met very heavy 
opposition from hidden enemy positions 
and in short order suffered fifty-five casual- 
ties. The 2/14- Battalion, moving west to 
clear out the enemy east of the creek, en- 
countered the same kind of opposition and 
sustained thirty-eight casualties. The pat- 
tern was familiar. Heavy losses had thus far 
characterized every attack on Gona, and the 
21st Brigade's first attack on the place was 
no exception. Although the brigade had not 
gone into action until the 28th, it had 
already lost 138 men and gained little more 
than a favorable line of departure from 
which to mount further attacks. 

On 30 November, the 2/27th continued 
its attack westward and again met strong 
opposition from the hidden enemy. This 
time it lost forty- five men. The 2/ 14th, 
meeting lighter opposition, lost only eleven 
men and finished clearing the enemy out of 
his positions east of the creek. The Austral- 
ians now held most of the beach between 
Basabua on the right and Gona on the left, 
but Gona itself was still firmly in Japanese 
hands. 

That evening, Brigadier Dougherty drew 
up the plan for another attack the next day, 
1 December, which would include part of 
Lt. Col. Albert E. Caro's newly arrived 2/16 
Battalion. The plan provided that the 2/27 
Battalion, with a company of the 2/ 16th 
on its left, would attack straight east in the 
morning. At a designated point, the 3 In- 
fantry Battalion, coming up from the head- 



quarters area to the south, would move in on 
the left and join with the AIF in the reduc- 
tion of Gona, which lay immediately to the 
Australian left front. 

About 0200 the next morning the Japa- 
nese at Giruwa made a last attempt to rein- 
force Gona. Loaded with 200 41st Infan- 
try troops, who had come in from the mouth 
of the Kumusi the night before, three barges 
tried to land about 600 yards east of Gona, 
but patrols of the 2/27 Battalion drove them 
off. The barges returned to Giruwa, their 
mission a failure. 4 

Shortly after the Japanese landing craft 
had been driven off, the day's attack on 
Gona began. At 0545 artillery and mortars 
opened up on the enemy, and at 0600 the 
troops attacked with bayonets fixed. The 
attack on the beach started off well, but 
the 3 Battalion mistook its rendezvous point 
and did not move far enough north. As a 
result, it failed to link up, as planned, with 
the company of the 2/16 Battalion on the 
2/27th's left. 

Everything went wrong after that. Swing- 
ing southwest to cover the front along which 
the 3 Battalion was to have attacked, the 
company of the 2/ 16th on the left and part 
of a company of the 2/27th on its right, 
broke into the village that morning, but the 
Japanese, who were there in strength, 
promptly drove the Australians out. Cas- 
ualties were heavy: the company of the 
2/1 6th alone lost fifty-eight killed, wounded, 
and missing in the abortive attack. 

On 3 December, Lt. Col. R. Honner's 39 
Battalion, leading Brigadier Porter's 30th 
Brigade, reached the front, rested and re- 
habilitated after its grueling experience in 
the Owen Stanleys' in July and August. 



1 Yokoyama Del Opns Orders No. A-12, 30 Nov 
42, in ATIS CT 18, No. 229. 



216 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



General Vasey had planned to send the 
battalion to Sanananda, but the 21st Bri- 
gade's losses — 430 killed, wounded, and 
missing, in the five days that it had been 
in action — left him no choice but to give 
it to Brigadier Dougherty. Ordering the rest 
of the 30th Brigade to Sanananda, Vasey 
assigned the battalion to Dougherty for 
action in the Gona area. 

Next day, the 25th Brigade, which had 
been relieved by the 21st Brigade on 30 
November, was further relieved, along with 
its attached 3 Infantry Battalion, of its sup- 
porting role in the Gona area. The troops, 
who had long since earned the respite, re- 
ceived their orders to return to Port Mores- 
by on 5 December and at once began mov- 
ing to the rear. Their part in the campaign 
was over. 

On the 6th, Brigadier Dougherty 
launched still another attack on Gona. The 
remaining troops of the 2/16 and 2/27 Bat- 
talions, now organized as a composite bat- 
talion, jumped off from their positions east 
of the mission and attacked straight west 
along the beach. The 39 Battalion, follow- 
ing a now-familiar tactic, moved up from 
the south and attacked northwest, hoping 
to reduce the village. The result was the 
same as before: heavy casualties and only 
a slight improvement in the Australian 
position. 

Yet for all their losses, the Australians 
were doing much better than they thought. 
The Japanese had taken a terrific pounding. 
They were utterly worn out and there were 
only a few hundred of them left. The time 
had come for the knockout blow. 

It was delivered on 8 December. At 1245, 
after a fifteen-minute artillery and mortar 
preparation, the 39 Battalion attacked Gona 
from the southeast. It broke into the village 
without great difficulty and began system- 



atically clearing the enemy out. Exactly an 
hour later, the composite 2/ 16—2/27 Bat- 
talion, which had been supporting the 39 
Battalion's attack with fire, moved for- 
ward — the troops of the 2/2 7th along the 
beach, and those of the 2/ 16th from a start 
line a few hundred yards south of it. By 
evening the militia and the AIF had a pin- 
cers on the mission, and only a small corri- 
dor 200 yards wide separated them. 

Acting on Colonel Yokoyama's orders, 
Major Yamamoto, still leading the defense, 
tried to make his way by stealth to Giruwa 
that night with as much of his force as he 
could muster — about 100 men. The attempt 
failed, and the Japanese were cut down in 
the darkness by the Bren guns of the 
Australians. 

The end came next day. Early on 9 De- 
cember patrols of the 2/16, 2/27, and 39 
Battalions moved into the mission area to 
mop up. It was a grim business with much 
hand-to-hand fighting, but the last enemy 
positions were overrun by 1630 that after- 
noon. The Australians found a little food 
and ammunition and took sixteen prisoners, 
ten of them stretcher cases. 

The Japanese at Gona had fought with 
such single-minded ferocity that they had 
not even taken time to bury their dead. In- 
stead, they had fired over the corpses and 
used them to stand on or to prop up their 
redoubts. Toward the end, the living had 
been driven to put on gas masks, so great 
was the stench from the dead. 

The stench was indeed so appalling that 
it had nauseated the Australians. When the 
fighting was over and the victors were able 
to examine the Japanese positions, they 
wondered how human beings could have 
endured such conditions and gone on living. 
An Australian journalist who was with the 
troops describes the scene thus : 



THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 



217 



. . . Rotting bodies, sometimes weeks old, 
formed part of the fortifications. The living 
fired over the bodies of the dead, slept side by 
side with them. In one trench was a Japanese 
who had not been able to stand the strain. 
His rifle was still pointed at his head, his big 
toe was on the trigger, and the top of his head 
was blown off. . . . Everywhere, pervading 
everything, was the stench of putrescent flesh. 5 

The Australians buried 638 Japanese 
dead at Gona, but they themselves had lost 
more than 750 killed, wounded, and miss- 
ing. Nor did capture of the village mean the 
end of fighting in the Gona area. General 
Yamagata had moved his force from the 
mouth of the Kumusi to the east bank of the 
Amboga River, a small stream whose mouth 
was about two miles northwest of Gona. His 
hope apparently was to find a weak spot on 
the Australian left flank and cut his way 
through to Gona. Australian patrols began 
clashing with Yamagata's force on 4 De- 
cember, the day it crossed the Amboga. The 
clashes increased in violence, and on 9 De- 
cember, the day that Gona fell, Brigadier 
Dougherty ordered the 39 Battalion west- 
ward to deal with the enemy. 6 

General Oda Gets Through 

General Adachi meanwhile had not re- 
laxed his efforts to reinforce the beachhead. 
Early on 7 December, a second landing force 
of about 800 men — the 1st Battalion, 170th 
Infantry, the remaining company of the 3d 
Battalion, 170th Infantry, the regimental 
gun company, and a heavy machine gun 
company — left Rabaul in six destroyers. 



5 ALF Daily Opns Rpt Nos, 235-243, 5-13 Dec 
42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; 18th Army Opns I, 
25. Quoted excerpt is from Ian Morrison, Our 
Japanese Foe (New York, 1943), pp. 6, 7. 

' ALF Daily Opns Rpt Nos. 236-238, 6-8 Dec 
42; 18th Army Opns I, 25; McCarthy, op. ext., 
Ch. 16. 



Covered by approximately twenty Zero 
fighter planes — the convoy took the south- 
ern route through St. George's Channel. A 
Fifth Air Force B— 24 on armed reconnais- 
sance spotted the ships at 1020 the next 
morning, just as they were leaving the chan- 
nel for the open sea. The B-24 attacked im- 
mediately and scored a hit on one of the 
destroyers. It was not fatal, and the six ships 
moved steadily onward to their destination. 
Late that afternoon, despite strong fighter 
interception, they were attacked by nine 
B-17's which hit them in successive waves. 
Three of the destroyers were set afire, and 
seven of the fighters were shot out of the sky 
without the loss of a single B-17. By 1625 
the Japanese had had enough. With dead 
and wounded aboard, and fires raging on 
three of the six destroyers, they reversed 
course and limped home to Rabaul. The air 
force had successfully turned back the sec- 
ond attempt of the 1st Battalion, 170th In- 
fantry, to reach the beachhead. 7 

General Yamagata's position had now be- 
come very precarious. His troops were be- 
ing bombed relentlessly from the air, and the 
Australians were taking increasingly heavy 
toll of them. Rather than retreat, he ordered 
his remaining troops to throw up a defensive 
line in the Napapo-Danawatu area, a 
few miles northwest of Gona. There they 
were to hold, awaiting the arrival of 
reinforcements. 8 

The reinforcements were not long in 
coming. The 1st Battalion, 17 0th Infantry, 



1 G-3 Opns Rpt No. 245, 7-8 Dec 42 ; Allied Air 
Force Opns Rpt, 8 Dec 42 ; G-2 Weekly Summary 
Enemy Naval Intel, 13 Dec 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ 
SWPA; Diary, Maj Nojiri, Staff Off and later CO, 
1st Bn, 170th Inf, in ATIS CT 29, No. 350; 18th 
Army Opns I, 25. 

8 Allied Air Force Opns Rpts, 2, 9, and 12 Dec 
42; Allied Air Force Rpt, 4 Dec 42, 9 Dec 42; ALF 
Daily Opns Rpt No. 224, 14 Dec 42; 18th Army 
Opns I, 25. 



218 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



which had been forced to return to Rabaul 
on 8 December, was ordered forward again 
on the 12th for the third time. In five de- 
stroyers, the force of about 800 men left 
Rabaul under command of Maj. Gen. Ken- 
saku Oda, new commander of the South 
Seas Detachment, succeeding General 
Horii. General Oda's orders were to report 
to General Yamagata, his senior in rank, 
for further instructions. 

Fortunately for Oda and the troops of 
Yamagata's brigade, the weather turned 
bad. Protected by poor visibility, the Japa- 
nese this time used a northern route which 
led past Madang and through Vitiaz Strait 
and got through safely. An attempt was 
made to bomb the ships on 13 December 
when they were glimpsed fleetingly off Ma- 
dang, but it was unsuccessful. The weather 
continued bad, and the destroyers managed 
to reach the mouth of the Mambare River 
about thirty miles north of the mouth of the 
Kumusi at 0200 on the 14th without being 
detected by the air force. The ships came 
prepared for a quick getaway. Their decks 
were loaded down with waterproofed cases 
of supplies lashed to drums or buoys, and 
they had brought along plenty of landing 
craft. Unloading operations began at once. 
The troops made for shore in the landing 
barges, and the supplies were pushed over- 
board into the sea to be washed ashore by 
the tide. 

The air force reached the scene at 0600. 
By that time unloading was virtually com- 
plete. The destroyers had already pulled out 
of the area, and efforts to bomb them were 
unsuccessful. However, some of the sup- 
plies and a few of the landing barges were 
still offshore, and the air force lost no time 
in bringing them as well as the landing 
beaches under attack. The Japanese lost 
some barges, men, and supplies, but their 



losses were on the whole small. 9 Thanks to 
the weather the Japanese could congratu- 
late themselves on an unusually successful 
run. They were some forty miles north of 
the beachhead, but they had their launches 
with them and could hope to reach it by 
coastwise infiltration. 

Though the Japanese had everything 
ashore and under cover, neither they nor 
their supplies were beyond Allied reach. 
Unknown to them, an Australian coast 
watcher, Lt. Lyndon C. Noakes, AIF, had 
his camp on a ridge about two miles from 
the mouth of the Mambare. Discovering the 
landing almost as soon as it was made, 
Noakes scouted the Japanese encampment, 
fixed the position of the tents and supply 
dumps in relation to a sandy beach easily 
seen from the air, and then had his radio 
operator send out a signal giving the exact 
position of the Japanese camp and dump 
area. Early the next morning the air force 
came over and scored hits on the Japanese 
supply dumps and destroyed several of Gen- 
eral Oda's precious launches. As soon as the 
bombers left, the Japanese tried shifting re- 
maining supplies to what they apparently 
thought would be a more secure place, but 
to no avail. They reckoned without Noakes, 
who at once reported the shift to the air 
force. Bombers came over again the next 
morning and blew up more of General Oda's 
supplies and sank more of his launches, re- 
peating the process every time the Japanese 
tried moving their supplies to a new place. 

Oda was delayed several days at the 
mouth of the Mambare. Critically short of 
landing craft, he finally managed to move 
forward to the Amboga with only a portion 



"Allied Air Force Opns Rpt, 13 Dec 42, 14 Dec 
42; G-3 Opns Rpt No. 251, 13-14 Dec 42; Allied 
Air Forces Intel Summary DOI, No. 260, 15 Dec 
42; Diary, Maj Nojiri; 18th Army Opns I, 25. 



THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 



219 



of the 1st Battalion, 1 70th Infantry. Hug- 
ging the coast, and moving only at night, he 
and the battalion's advance echelon reached 
the mouth of the Amboga on 18 December 
and at once reported to General Yamagata, 10 
whose headquarters, previously at Napapo, 
about three miles northwest of Gona, was 
now at Danawatu about five miles north- 
west of it. 

By this time the 2/14 Battalion, after 
leaving a portion of its strength to outpost 
the Basabua anchorage, had moved west to 
the Amboga River area and joined the 39 
Battalion in operations against General 
Yamagata's force in that area. The fighting 
had been extremely costly to the Japanese. 
By mid-month they had lost so many men 
that when General Oda reported to him on 
the 18th, Yamagata immediately ordered 
into the line around Danawatu all the troops 
that Oda had brought with him. Oda him- 
self he ordered to Giruwa with instructions 
to take command upon his arrival there. 
Oda and his staff reached Giruwa safely by 
launch on 21 December, and the general at 
once took command in place of Colonel 
Yokoyama. 11 

As commander at Giruwa Colonel Yoko- 
yama had concerned himself, since the Allies 
had marched out on the beachhead, chiefly 
with operations along the Soputa-Sana- 
nanda track, and General Oda at once 
moved his headquarters forward to Sana- 
nanda to take personal charge of them. 



10 Allied Air Force Opns Rpts, 15, 16, and 17 
Dec 42; Feldt, The Coast Watchers, pp. 194-96; 
Maj Nojiri's Diary; 18th Army Opns I, 27. 

11 ALF Daily Opns Rpt No. 247, 17 Dec 42, No. 
248, 18 Dec 42; G-3 Opns Rpt No. 256, 18-19 
Dec 42 ; Nankai Shitai Orders No. 3, 22 Dec 42, in 
ATIS CT 18, No. 232 ; Interr, Sgt Jinsaburo Hirose, 
1st Bn, 170th Inf, in 32d Div G-2 Enemy Interro- 
gations and Translations File; Maj Nojiri's Diary; 
18th Army Opns I, 27. 



The Sanananda Front 

The Roadblock Garrison 
Holds Its Own 

Establishment of the roadblock on 30 
November by units of the Baetcke force 
under Captain Shirley had cut off the Jap- 
anese forward units at the junction of the 
Killerton trail and the Soputa-Sanananda 
track, the only notable gain since operations 
against the enemy positions in the track 
junction began. Shirley's men, however, 
had their difficulties. The garrison (Com- 
pany I, the Antitank Company, a machine 
gun section of Company M, and a com- 
munications detachment of 3d Battalion 
headquarters) was itself in a precarious 
position. Not only was its supply line ex- 
posed and vulnerable, but the troops man- 
ning the position were subject to continu- 
ous attack from almost every direction by 
enemy forces who outnumbered them sev- 



eral times over. {Map 11 



Situated in a comparatively open space 
in the midst of a swampy jungle, the road- 
block was a position not easy to defend. It 
was only a few feet higher than the sur- 
rounding swamp and lacked natural cover 
except for a few small trees and a profusion 
of broad-leaved vines. Tall jungle trees, 25 
to 100 feet high, standing over dense under- 
growth, surrounded it and afforded the 
enemy every advantage in sniping or mount- 
ing surprise attacks. 

The men had dug themselves in as soon 
as the roadblock was secured. The two ma- 
chine gun squads of Company M took up 
their position at the northern end and 
southern ends of the perimeter. Company 
I moved into position west of the road, 
and the Antitank Company dug in east of 
it. Two 60-mm. mortars were emplaced 



220 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




inside Company I's perimeter west of the 
road. 

The night the roadblock was established, 
the Antitank Company repulsed a heavy 
attack from the northeast and Company I, 
one from the northwest. Next morning Cap- 
tain Keast and a strong patrol including 



Lieutenant Daniels, the Australian forward 
observer who had done such effective work 
for Major Zeeff on the right, tried a prob- 
ing attack just off the southwest end of the 
perimeter. They ran into a well-laid enemy 
ambush. Keast and Daniels were killed and 
nine others were wounded. As quickly as 



THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 



221 



they could, the men pulled back into the 
perimeter, the 1st Sergeant of Company I, 
Alfred R. Wentzloff, and five men of the 
company successfully covering their retreat 
by fire. Beginning in the late afternoon of 
1 December and continuing till after mid- 
night, at least five separate counterattacks 
hit the roadblock troops from the southwest, 
north, northwest, and northeast. All were 
thrown back with only small casualties to 
the garrison. 12 

During this action Major Baetcke, the 
task force commander, and the rest of his 
force, Company K and the Cannon Com- 
pany, were in position in the 3d Battalion 
area, west of the roadblock. Originally they 
had planned to move into the roadblock as 
soon as it was established. They were to 
make their move, however, only if Major 
Boerem's frontal attack on 30 November 
succeeded in piercing the Japanese positions 
in the track junction, and if Boerem was 
able, in consequence, to reach the road- 
block. Boerem's attack had failed, but the 
proposal was made on 1 December to send 
Company K and the Cannon Company into 
the roadblock anyway. It was argued that 
Companies I and K and the Cannon and 
Antitank Companies combined might be 
able to attack the Japanese rear successfully 
before the enemy could stabilize his defenses 
in the area. Major Baetcke finally discarded 
the plan as too risky. To put it into execution 
might cause the troops in the roadblock to 
lose all communication with the rear and 
could very easily result in the destruction of 
the entire force. Baetcke's feeling therefore 



12 126th Inf Jnl, Ser 13, 1 Dec 42; Jnl, Co I, 
126th Inf, 1 Dec 42; Memo, Maj Dal Ponte for 
author, 15 Jul 50. Sergeant Wentzloff was later 
awarded the Silver Star. The citation is in Hq 
USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43. 



was that he had to keep Company K and the 
Cannon Company in position west of the 
roadblock to supply it and guard its tenuous 
line of communications. 

Supplies came up from the rear on 1 De- 
cember, and the following morning Major 
Baetcke sent out the first ammunition and 
ration party, under command of Captain 
Huggins, S-3 of the 3d Battalion, 126th 
Infantry. It had to fight its way into the 
perimeter but reached it safely about 1 1 00. 
Shortly afterward, the Japanese launched 
a heavy counterattack and succeeded in 
nibbling off fifty yards from the northeast 
end of the perimeter. Captain Shirley was 
killed at 1240 and Captain Huggins took 
over command of the roadblock, which for 
the following month was to bear his name. 13 

The Japanese attacked the roadblock re- 
peatedly that day and the next but were re- 
pulsed. Major Boerem's troops could not 
cut their way through to the roadblock, and 
Major Zeeff had to be recalled. Action on 
the track had crystallized into a fight to 
maintain the roadblock, a situation that 
scarcely required the presence of a regimen- 
tal headquarters. Thus on 3 December, 
when General Eichelberger requested the 
transfer to the other side of the river of 



"Jnl, Maj Boerem's Det, 1 Dec 42; 126th Inf 
Jnl, Sers 7, 13, 19, 22, 2 Dec 42; Jnl, Co I, 126th 
Inf, 2 Dec 42; Ltr, Col Baetcke to author, 10 Jan 
50; Memo, Maj Dal Ponte for author, 12 Jul 50, 
On Major Baetcke's orders, Lieutenant Dal Ponte 
returned to task force headquarters with the ration 
party that Captain Huggins had led into the road- 
block that morning. Colonel Baetcke recalls that 
Dal Ponte brought back with him some dried onions 
captured in the roadblock. Considering them a great 
delicacy, he and Dal Ponte mashed them up with 
biscuit, and added a little water. They ate the re- 
sulting gruel with great relish, counting spoonfuls 
so that one man would not get more than the other. 
Interv with Colonel Baetcke, 17 Nov 50. 



222 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Colonel Tomlinson and his headquarters, 
General Herring had no difficulty acceding 
to the request, even though he had specifi- 
cally denied a similar request from General 
Harding a few days before. The transfer was 
made the next day, 4 December, Tomlinson 
reached Dobodura by air early that morn- 
ing, and Captain Boice, his S-2, Captain 
Dixon, his S 3, and sixty enlisted men of 
Headquarters Company, under command 
of 1st Lt. Charles W. Swank, crossed the 
Girua on foot early the same day. Major 
Baetcke thereupon assumed command of the 
remaining American troops west of the 
Girua, and Major Zeeff became Baetcke's 
executive officer. 14 

Brigadier Lloyd ordered a new attack 
for 5 December. The plan of action pro- 
vided that Major Baetcke from his position 
west of the roadblock would strike the Japa- 
nese right rear north of the junction, while 
Major Boerem attacked their left-front posi- 
tions south of it. Baetcke would use the 
eighty men of Company K, and Boerem, the 
220 men of Companies C and L. Company 
L had been assigned to Boerem upon Zeeff's 
recall from operations on the right. 

At 0715 on the 5th, all the Allied guns 
and mortars on the front opened up. Fifteen 
minutes later the troops jumped off for the 
attack. Leaving the Cannon Company in 
position under Captain Medendorp, Major 
Baetcke pushed straight south with his 
eighty-man force. Advancing through a 
heavy field of kunai grass which made it 
impossible to see more than a few feet ahead, 
Major Baetcke's force covered about 300 
yards before it was halted by heavy machine 



" Msg, Adv NGF to 32d Div, Ser 2086, 3 Dec 42, 
in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 9, 25, 31, 
32, 3 Dec 42, Sers 1, 2, 3, 4 Dec 42; 3d Bn, 126th 
Inf Jnl, Ser 1, 4 Dec 42, 



gun and mortar fire. Major Boerem, with 
his 220 men, did not do as well. Running 
into very heavy opposition, he gained less 
than 100 yards before his attack was also 
stopped. Losses were heavy. Baetcke and 
Boerem between them lost ninety men that 
day out of the 300 engaged — two killed, 
sixty-three wounded, and twenty-five miss- 
ing. 13 It was clear that Colonel Tsukamoto's 
troops were firmly entrenched and that 
rooting them out would be no easy task. 

At the roadblock the garrison had been 
heavily engaged. The Japanese had thrust 
from several directions on 3 December and 
had repeated the performance the next day. 
Captain Huggins was wounded on the 5th, 
the day that the attack put on by Majors 
Baetcke and Boerem had failed, but re- 
mained in command for lack of someone else 
to take his place. 

The enemy had tried to infiltrate Com- 
pany K's position west of the roadblock on 
the 4th and laid a skillful ambush about 300 
yards out of the roadblock on the 5th. When 
Lieutenant Dal Ponte tried to lead a sixty- 
man ration and ammunition party into the 
block that morning, the hidden Japanese 
tried to entrap him. Although Dal Ponte's 
party consisted mainly of cooks, clerks, and 
mortarmen, each carrying a forty-pound 
load, the men gave a good account of them- 
selves. Not only did the ambush fail, but the 
heavily burdened troops turned the tables 
on the enemy and at one point almost broke 
through to the roadblock. After fighting all 
day and suffering a half-dozen casualties 
including two killed, the troops were finally 
forced to withdraw when the Japanese, 



ls 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 16, 17, 20, 22, 23, 
24, 4 Dec 42, Sers 3, 4, 5, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 25, 28, 
31, 5 Dec 42, Ser 1, 6 Dec 42; Jnl, Maj Boerem's 
Det, 4, 5, 6 Dec 42 ; Col Baetcke, Notes on Amer- 
ican Force on the Sanananda Trail. 



THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 



223 



strongly reinforced, seemed about to envel- 
ope them. 16 

Another attempt to get rations and am- 
munition through to the roadblock on 6 
December also failed. By this time the road- 
block garrison was down to its last day's 
rations, and it would soon be out of ammu- 
nition. There was nothing for it but to try 
again. 

Malaria was meanwhile claiming more 
American victims. Losses due to fever had 
been few at first, but by the end of the first 
week in December 20 percent of the com- 
mand had contracted it, and the percentage 
was rising. On 7 December Major Baetcke 
and Zeeff both came down with malaria 
and had to be evacuated. Major Boerem 
took command of the entire force, which 
now numbered fewer than 800 men. The 
30th Brigade under Brigadier Porter re- 
lieved the 16th Brigade that day, and 
Boerem came under Porter's command. 

One of Porter's first acts was to relieve 
Companies C, D, and L in the front lines 
near the track junction, and to replace them 
with his 49 and 55/53 Battalions. Satisfied 
that none of the Americans could be spared, 
Porter would go no further. He did not 
accede to a request by Boerem that the 
American troops be withdrawn to the rear 
for rest and reorganization, nor did he au- 
thorize the return to the 3 2d Division of 
some 350 of them, though this had been 
promised to General Eichelberger some days 
before by New Guinea Force. Instead he 
ordered all of Major Boerem's troops, ex- 
cept those in the roadblock and west of the 
roadblock, to take up supporting positions 
immediately to the rear of the 49 and 55/53 
Battalions. On the same day he had the two 



18 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 1, 5 Dec 42; Jnl, 
Co I, 126th Inf, 5 Dec 42; Memo, Maj Dal Ponte 
for author, 16 Jul 50. 



Australian battalions attack frontally toward 
the road junction in an attempt to break 
through the roadblock. 17 

The 49 Battalion, Lt. Col. O. A. Kessels 
commanding, jumped off at 0945 on 7 De- 
cember after a careful artillery and mortar 
preparation. By 1400 it was stopped com- 
pletely with a loss of ninety-nine killed, 
wounded, and missing. Brigadier Porter then 
ordered the 55/53 Battalion to pass through 
the position held by Colonel Kessels' bat- 
talion and to resume the attack. The 55/53d, 
Lt. Col. D. J. H. Lovell commanding, at- 
tacked at 1515 with even worse results. 
Cut down by enemy crossfire, the leading 
companies of the battalion lost 130 killed, 
wounded, and missing by the end of the day 
and gained virtually no ground whatever. 

In a few hours of fighting Brigadier Por- 
ter had lost 229 men (more men than Major 
Boerem had had to attack with on 5 Decem- 
ber, two days before) and had completely 
failed to dislodge the enemy. Colonel Tsu- 
kamoto's defense was still potent, and it was 
to be twelve days before the Australians, 
who now embarked on "a policy of patrol- 
ling and edging forward wherever possible," 
were to try a major attack again. 18 

Nor had things gone well in the roadblock 
area. A further attempt to break through to 
the block early that morning was a failure, 
and the supply party returned in the eve- 
ning with its supplies undelivered. The 
Japanese were blocking the trail, in 
strength, the men reported, and they had 
not been able to get through. 



" 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 5, 6 Dec 42, Sers 1, 
2, 4, 7 Dec 42; Msg, NGF to Col Merle H. Howe, 
G-3, 32d Div, Ser 2466, 7 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Maj 
Boerem to Col Howe, Ser 2467, 7 Dec 42. Both 
Msgs in 32d Div G-3 Jnl. ALF Daily Opns Rpts 
Nos. 256, 257, 6, 7 Dec 42; Jnl, Maj Boerem's Det, 
6, 7 Dec 42. 

"McCarthy, op. cit., Ch. 17. 



224 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Lieutenant Dal Ponte at once volunteered 
to take the supplies through. Taking com- 
mand of the same force that had failed to 
get through the day before, he moved out 
early the next morning. About 300 yards 
from the roadblock, at nearly the same spot 
where the Japanese had held up Dal Ponte 
three days before, the supply party was 
halted and pinned down by machine gun 
fire from hidden enemy positions on either 
side of the trail. Dal Ponte knew what to do. 
Deliberately exposing himself to draw fire, 
he located first one enemy position and then 
the other and personally led infiltrating 
parties which either silenced the enemy or 
caused him to withdraw. Though repeatedly 
attacked the rest of the way, the supply party 
successfully fought its way into the road- 
block and Dal Ponte immediately took com- 
mand of the garrison. Huggins, who had 
been carrying on despite his wounds, was 
evacuated to the rear that night when the 
supply party returned to the position held 
by Company K and the Cannon Company 
to the west of the block. 19 

After arriving at the rear with the supply 
party, Captain Huggins gave a discouraging 
report on conditions in the roadblock. He 
described it as about 200 yards square, with 
the command post and aid station near the 
center, "all in elliptical pattern." Fevers 
were raging, he said, and food, ammunition, 
and medical supplies were running low. The 
men had to live in holes, and the disposal of 
wastes presented a difficult problem. Of the 



19 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 17, 4 Dec 42, Ser 1, 
5 Dec 42, Sers 1, 4, 8 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Maj Boerem 
to Col Howe, Ser 2467, 7 Dec 42, in 32d Div G-3 
Jnl; Jnls Cos I and K, 126th Inf, 7, 8 Dec 42; Jnl, 
Maj Boerem's Force, 7, 8 Dec 42; 126th Inf CT 
AAR, Papuan Campaign. Both Dal Ponte and 
Huggins were later awarded the Distinguished Serv- 
ice Cross. The citations are in Hq USAFFE GO No. 
28, 24 May 43. 



225 men left in the garrison, he thought that 
perhaps 125 were in condition to fight. 20 
As Dal Ponte was to recall the matter: 

. . . water was procured from a hole dug 
about 3 feet deep, . . . chlorinated for drink- 
ing by administering individual tablets. An- 
other source of water supply was that which 
the men would catch in their pouches from 
the downpour during the previous night. . . . 
The disposal of wastes and the burying of 
dead had to be accomplished within [the] 
area. . . . Rations were very meager because 
the ration parties concentrated on ammuni- 
tion. . . . Chocolate bars, bully beef, and in- 
stant coffee were the main items of food when 
provided. . . . The weather was almost with- 
out [exception] rain at night and boiling hot 
sun during the day. . . . The men were able 
to get hot coffee by using canned heat that 
they had saved from previous ration issues or 
by an expedient consisting of sand and the 
gasoline taken from the captured trucks. . . . a 

On 10 December, with communications 
again out, a second ration party led by 1st 
Lt. Zina Carter was able to get through to 
the roadblock. Lieutenant Carter brought 
back a message from Lieutenant Dal Ponte 
that fevers, foot ailments, and ringworm 
were increasing daily, and that while the 
spirit of the men was good they were worn 
out and desperately needed relief. 

Life at the roadblock was hard. Although 
the troops were hungry, feverish, and in need 
of sleep, they were on an almost perpetual 
alert. Crouched low in their muddy foxholes, 
their feet going bad, they repelled attack 
after attack. Sometimes the Japanese got so 
close to their slit trenches that the troops 
were able to grab them by the ankles and 
pull them in. Several Japanese officers were 
caught and killed in this way. 22 

"Jnl, Maj Boerem's Force, 8 Dec 42. 

21 Memo, Maj Dal Ponte for author, 16 Jul 50. 

18 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 4, 9 Dec 42, Ser 3, 
10 Dec 42; ALF Daily Opns Rpts No. 238, 8 Dec 
42, No. 242, 12 Dec 42; Jnl, Co I, 126th Inf, 8 
Dec 42. 



THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 



225 



Deep in the swamp to the west Company 
K and the Cannon Company were little 
better off than the troops in the roadblock. 
On 30 November, the day the block was 
established, the journal of Company K 
noted: "We have been living in holes for 
the last six days. Between mosquitoes, Japs, 
heat, bad water, and short rations, it has 
sure been hell on the men." Four days 
later, the entry was: "In position, but the 
men are getting weaker from lack of food 
and the hot sun is baking hell out of them." 
It rained the following two nights, and, as 
the journal put it: "Did we ever get wet." 
But, "Hell," it continued, "we've been wet 
ever since we got to New Guinea." By 9 
December, things were definitely worse. 
"What is left of the company," the journal 
noted, "is a pretty sick bunch of boys. It 
rained again last night, men all wet, and 
sleeping in mud and water." A day later, on 
the 1 0th, things looked up a bit. The troops 
had something to be happy about: they 
received hot coffee. The entry for the day 
reads: "The men haven't washed for a 
month, or had any dry clothing, but we did 
get some canned heat and a hot cup of 
coffee. Sure helps a lot. Boy, was it wonder- 
ful." 23 

Communications between the supply base 
to the west and the troops in the roadblock 
were poor. The radios in use, the SCR- 
195 and SCR-288, proved very unreliable. 
Not only did the Japanese frequently cut 
the wire laid to the roadblock, but they ap- 
parently made a practice of tapping it fre- 
quently. Extreme care was therefore ob- 
served in telephone conversations. As an ad- 
ditional precaution, frequent use was made 
of Dutch, a language familiar to many 

" Jnl, Co K, 126th Inf, 30 Nov 42, 4, 9, 10 Dec 
42. This journal is an informal affair, apparently 
carried in someone's pocket for a long time. Despite 
the lapse of years, it still smells of the jungle. 



Michigan troops whose forebears had come 
from the Netherlands. 

The condition of the troops south of the 
track junction was no less bad. Despite 
double doses of quinine, man after man of 
Companies C, D, and L was coming down 
with malaria. More than a quarter of the 
command had fallen ill or had been evacu- 
ated with fever, and the percentage was 
climbing steadily. Casualty figures had as- 
sumed the aspect of a nightmare. By 1 De- 
cember Boerem had but 635 men fit for 
duty. Two days later he had only 551, and 
each day saw the effective strength of his 
command shrink still further. 

On 12 December, after several attempts 
the day before had failed to reach the road- 
block, Major Boerem asked Brigadier 
Porter to relieve the garrison as well as 
Company K and the Cannon Company, but 
without success. Heavy rain and fierce 
enemy opposition defeated all attempts to 
supply the roadblock on the 13th. All efforts 
to establish radio or telephone contact with 
the garrison that day also failed; even run- 
ners were unable to get through. 24 



"Jnl, Maj Boerem's Force, 10, 12, 13 Dec 42; 
3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 1, 12 Dec 42; Jnl, Co K, 
126th Inf, 13 Dec 42; Memo, Maj Dal Ponte for 
author, 16 Jul 50. Major Boerem faced other prob- 
lems. Major Baetcke had radioed a requisition for 
81-mm. heavy mortar shells, ,50-caliber machine 
guns, a .37-mm. gun, and medical supplies from 
Port Moresby. Because he could not keep track of 
all the personnel losses that were taking place, 
Baetcke had closed his message with the words, 
"Send Todish"— meaning CWO Frank O. Todish, 
a warrant officer skilled in personnel matters. The 
decoding clerk at Port Moresby, thinking Todish a 
garble, jumped to the conclusion that what Baetcke 
meant was, "Send to FISH" — the code name for 
Pongani. The result was that the supplies for which 
Boerem was anxiously waiting never reached him. 
They came in on 10 December to Pongani and were 
later delivered to Warren Force, which, while grate- 
ful for their arrival, had no idea who requisitioned 
them. Maj Boerem's Force, Jnl, 10 Dec 42; Interv 
with Col Baetcke, 17 Nov 50. 



226 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Things went better on the 14th. A party 
of fifty-five men fought its way into the 
roadblock early that morning with rations, 
ammunition, and medical supplies. It broke 
through just in time, for the garrison was 
low on food and was about to run out of 
ammunition. 25 

Unable to get anywhere with Brigadier 
Porter in the matter of the relief of his 
troops, Major Boerem saw General Vasey 
early on the 14th. As the detachment 
journal notes: "No doubt the Major 
emerged a bit victorious, for there was a 
gleam of accomplishment in his eye upon 
his return to the C. P." That same after- 
noon, Company K and the Cannon Com- 
pany packed up and moved to the rear for 
a well-earned rest. Their place was taken 
by Australian troops. 2 * 

The Relief of the Dal Ponte Force 

The relief of the troops in the Huggins 
Block was to take longer. On 15 December 
the 2/7 Australian Cavalry Regiment began 
arriving at Soputa. Three hundred and fifty 
men, the regiment's advance element, 
fought their way into the roadblock at 1530 
on the 18th. Led by their commander, Lt. 
Col. Edgar P. Logan, the cavalrymen dug 
themselves in at once beside Lieutenant Dal 
Ponte's troops. The 49 Battalion, operating 
southeast of the roadblock, was held up 
nearly all day, and the 36 and 55/53 Bat- 

B Jnl, Co K, 126th Inf, 13-15 Dec 42; Jnl, Maj 
Boerem's Force, 9-15 Dec 42 ; 3d Bn, 1 26th Inf, Jnl, 
Ser 1, 11 Dec 42, Ser 1, 12 Dec 42; Memo, Maj 
Dal Ponte for author, 16 Jul 50. Only about 1 l /i 
day's rations were brought in, since the shortages 
of ammunitions and medical supplies were even 
more acute than the shortage of food. 

" Jnl, Maj Boerem's Force, 14 Dec 42 ; Jnl, Co K, 
126th Inf, 14 Dec 42; 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 2, 
4, 14 Dec 42; ALF Daily Opns Rpt No. 244, 14 
Dec 42. 



talions, attacking frontally, made only negli- 
gible progress. 

Colonel Logan's instructions were to at- 
tack northward the next morning, the 19th, 
in concert with attacks on the track junction 
by the 30th Brigade. The Dal Ponte force 
would be relieved as soon as the 39 Bat- 
talion, which had been mopping up east of 
the Amboga River, could reach the Soputa- 
Sanananda track. 

Action flared up everywhere on the front 
on the 1 9th. Early in the morning, while the 
2/16 and 2/27 Battalions began relieving 
the 39 Battalion in the Napapo— Danawatu 
area, the main body of the cavalry unit 
moved out of the roadblock and attacked 
north. The 30th Brigade, joined by the 
newly arrived 36 Battalion, Lt. Col. O. C. 
Isaachsen commanding, mounted an all- 
out attack on the Japanese positions in the 
track junction. The 36 and 55/53 Bat- 
talions attacked frontally, the 49 Battalion 
attacked east of the track, and Major 
Boerem's troops executed a holding attack 
by fire. 17 

Cutting to the left around heavy Japa- 
nese opposition immediately northeast of 
Huggins, the cavalry troops advanced sev- 
eral hundred yards and held their gains. 
The 36 and 55/53 Battalions breached sev- 
eral Japanese positions in the track junction 
area, and the 49 Battalion pushed forward 
to a point just outside the roadblock. A 
strong attack on Huggins was repulsed, and 
the 2/7 Cavalry pocketed and mopped up 
a Japanese force 300 yards northeast of the 
roadblock. There the cavalrymen set up a 
new perimeter, which they named Kano. In 



"ALF Daily Opns Rpts, Nos. 245-251, 15-21 
Dec 42; G-3 Opns Rpts, No. 254, 16-17 Dec 42, 
No. 256, 18-19 Dec 42; Jnl, Maj Boerem's Force, 
15 Dec 42; NGF, Notes on Opns in New Guinea, 
Ser 3. 



THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 



227 



the day's fighting, they lost their com- 
mander, Colonel Logan, who was killed in 
action. 

Some progress was registered on 20 and 
21 December. The 36th and 55/53 Battal- 
ions reduced several more enemy pockets in 
front of the track junction. The 49 Battal- 
ion, which by this time had fought its way 
into Huggins, began policing a supply route 
to it from the southeast. The 2/7 Cavalry 
consolidated at Kano and probed toward 
Sanananda. 

On 22 December Brigadier Dougherty, 
21st Brigade Headquarters, and the 39 Bat- 
talion reached Soputa from Gona. They 
moved directly to the roadblock, where 
Brigadier Dougherty set up his headquar- 
ters. Dougherty took over command of the 
49 Battalion, of the 2/7 Cavalry, and of the 
American troops in the roadblock the same 
day. Brigadier Porter, who was to mop up 
the remaining enemy pockets in the track 
junction area, was left in command of the 
36 Battalion, the 55/53 Battalion, and the 
remaining elements of Major Boerem's 
command. 

At 1500 that day Brigadier Dougherty as- 
signed to the 49 Battalion the role of pro- 
tecting the line of communications from the 
southeast (which being over better terrain 
than that from the southwest was the supply 
route used thereafter). He ordered the 2/7 
Cavalry to continue its attacks northward, 
and the 39 Battalion to relieve the garrison 
and hold the roadblock. 28 

The relief was effected that afternoon. 
At 1 750, after checking with Major Boerem, 
Lieutenant Dal Ponte assembled his com- 



JS ALF Daily Opns Rpts, Nos. 249-254, 19-24 
Dec 42; G-2 Daily Summaries Enemy Intel, Nos. 
272-275, 20-23 Dec 42; Jnl, Co I, 126th Inf, 19 
Dec 42; Jnl, Maj Boerem's Force, 19 Dec 42; NGF, 
Notes on Opns in New Guinea, Ser 3; 18th Army 
Opns I, 26. 



mand and marched it out of the roadblock. 
After twenty-two days of continuous fight- 
ing against heavy odds, the 126th Infantry 
troops in the roadblock had finally been re- 
lieved. They were dazed, sick, and ex- 
hausted, and their feet were in such bad 
shape that they could scarcely use them. 
Their spirit, nevertheless, was high, 29 for 
their defense of the roadblock had been 
superb. 

Stalemate on the Sanananda Front 

For the Australian units now in the road- 
block area, things went little better than 
before. It was discovered that the Japanese 
had a very strong defensive position between 
Huggins and Kano, and an even stronger 
position north of Kano. Brigadier Dougherty 
was able to make only slight and very costly 
progress in his attacks to the northward. Nor 
did Brigadier Porter's mopping-up opera- 
tions in the track junction area go much 
better. Though a portion of their outer line 
had been breached, Colonel Tsukamoto's 
troops, with equally strong defenses to the 
rear, continued to fight with the same feroc- 
ity that had characterized the defenders of 
Gona. There was a difference, however: 
most of the Japanese at Gona had been 
service and construction troops with little 
combat experience; those defending the 
track junction were battle-tested infantry 



"Jnl, Go I, 126th Inf, 22 Dec 42; Jnl, Maj 
Boerem's Force, 22 Dec 42; 126th Inf CT AAR, 
Papuan Campaign. As an evidence of that spirit, 
consider two entries in the journal of Company I. 
On the 15th, with communications out, food short, 
and only mud to sleep in, the main entry for the day 
reads, "Wentzloff needs a bath." On the 23d, the 
day after the relief, the journal contains this entry: 
"Wentzloff finally took a bath." Alfred R. Wentzloff, 
it will be remembered, was Company I's 1st ser- 
geant. 



228 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



troops, probably as good as any the Japan- 
ese Army had. 

Rooting out the enemy continued to be a 
slow and costly business. The 30th Brigade 
attacked west of the track, with the 55/53 
Battalion on the left and the 36 Battalion, 
less one company, on the right. Major 
Boerem attacked east of the brigade with the 
company of the 36 Battalion on his right. 
The American front-line troops, then under 
command of Captain Wildey of Company 
M, made slow progress in their sector, and 
the Australians on either side of them did 
little better in theirs. 30 

Tsukamoto's troops were by no means 
passive in their defense. On 24 December, 
American troops on the right-hand side of 
the track cleared out an enemy trench and 
machine gun position with hand grenades. 31 
To hold it, however, they had to beat off 
repeated Japanese counterattacks. On the 
night of 28-29 December forty Japanese, 
armed with light machine guns, rifles, and 
explosive charges, infiltrated the Allied rear 
and blew up a 25-pounder. Thirteen Japa- 
nese were killed and one was taken prisoner, 



30 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 1, 24 Dec 42, Ser 2, 
25 Dec 42, Sers 3, 6, 7, 9, 26 Dec 42, Sers 8, 10, 13, 
16, 27 Dec 42, Sers 7, 13, 20 Dec 42, Ser 4, 1 Jan 
43 ; ALF Daily Opns Rpts, Nos. 256-262, 26 Dec 
42-2 Jan 43. 

31 Five men were later awarded the Distinguished 
Service Cross for making the attack possible: Sgt. 
Chester C. Funk of the Cannon Company; Cpl. 
Orrin C, Sutton and Pfc, Edward R. Rossman of 
Company L; and Pvts. Lawrence B. Marion and 
Harold R. Pederson of Company M. A sap had been 
dug to within fifteen feet of the enemy trench. 
Despite repeated enemy attacks Funk, though 
wounded, held the - sap through the night with 
hand grenades. At dawn the other four men crawled 
forward from the sap, got a foothold in the trench, 
and held long enough for the rest of the force to 
arrive and clear it out completely. The citations of 
Sutton, Rossman, Marion, and Pederson are in Hq 
USAFFE, GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43; Funk's is in GO 
No. 45, 8 Aug 42. 



but the enemy had traded blow for blow. 32 
The Japanese struck again on the night 
of 30-31 December. A Japanese raiding 
party succeeded in infiltrating the headquar- 
ters perimeter of the Australian company on 
the American right. Surprise was complete. 
The company commander and several 
others were killed, but only a few of the 
Japanese were accounted for. The rest got 
away safely in the dark. 83 

Hacking a way through the Japanese de- 
fenses, which were in depth for a distance 
of at least three-quarters of a mile, con- 
tinued to be grueling work, in which prog- 
ress was measured in terms of a few yards, 
and the capture of a single enemy pillbox 
or trench was a significant gain. The story 
was the same in Brigadier Dougherty's area 
as in Brigadier Porter's. Fighting was bitter, 
and progress slow. Except for minor gains, 
the entire front was at a stalemate. 

The Plight of the American Troops 

The conditions under which the troops 
lived were almost indescribably bad. Colonel 
Boerem, then Major Boerem, recalls them 
in these words : 

Fighting for weeks . . . with the prevail- 
ing wind in our faces continually carrying the 
stink of rotting bodies to us [raised] a difficult 
morale problem . . . Most of my time was 
spent going from one soldier to another in an 
endeavor to raise morale. After taking one 
position, one hundred and sixty (160) Aus- 

" Jnl, Maj Boerem's Force, 23, 24 Dec 42 ; 3d 
Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 1, 4, 29 Dec 42; 30th Bde, 
Notes on the Japanese New Year, copy in OCMH 
files. Of this enemy coup, an American officer re- 
marked, "The Japs apparently used solidified picric, 
and sufficient was found in the vicinity to blow up 
Lansing, Michigan." Tel Conv, Warren Force with 
7th Div, Ser 4583, 29 Dec 42, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl. 

33 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 14, 31 Dec 42; Jnl, 
Maj Boerem's Force, 31 Dec 42; 18th Army Opns 
I, 331. 



THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 



229 




BOATLOAD OF RATIONS is brought up the Girua River, December 1942. (Collapsil 
assault boat.) 



tralian and American dead were counted in 
all stages of decomposition. We made no at- 
tempt to count the Japs. 

Boerem did his best to rest the men but 
was able to relieve "only one or two at a 
time to go to the rear, bathe in the river, 
get some clean clothes and return." Food 
consisted principally of the C ration "put up 
in Australia with mutton substituted for the 
beef component." The only supplement was 
bully beef and D ration bars of hard, con- 
centrated chocolate — a diet, Boerem ob- 
serves gravely, no one could stomach for 
very long. 34 



51. 



' Ltr, Col Richard D. Boerem to author, 2 Nov 



To add to his other troubles, Boerem was 
beginning to experience the greatest diffi- 
culty in finding enough troops to man the 
American part of the line. On Christmas 
Day he had only a little more than 400 men 
left in condition to fight. A few days later 
he had less than 300, and the number was 
constantly shrinking. To provide troops for 
the front and to guard the Australian ar- 
tillery and headquarters perimeter, it be- 
came necessary to institute a round-robin 
system of relief whereby the available 
troops were rotated between the front line, 
the headquarters perimeter, and the artillery 
guard. The time came when, despite the 
most rigorous screening to catch all possible 



230 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



troops for front-line duty, there were not 
enough men left with whom to attack. 

By the year's end, even the seemingly in- 
destructible Major Boerem was worn out 
and needed to be spelled off. General Eich- 
elberger sent Maj. Francis L. Irwin to re- 
place him. Boerem nevertheless stayed on 
with the troops at the front for more than a 
week longer. There was little left of the 
American force when Major Irwin arrived. 
On 31 December, the day he took com- 
mand, effective American strength west of 
the Girua River was little more than a com- 
pany, and the situation in the American 
sector was grim indeed. 

Captain Wildey in command on the 
front line had been wounded on 26 Decem- 
ber. He had been succeeded by 1st Lt. John 
J. Filarski, 1st Battalion S-4, who had been 
Lieutenant Dal Ponte's executive in the 
roadblock. When Filarski was evacuated on 
29 December, totally exhausted, Dal Ponte 
took command of a force that consisted in 
all of seventy-eight men from ten different 
companies. All that the troops could do was 
to hold their lines and support the Austra- 
lians on right and left by fire. 35 "Our tactics 
during this period," Dal Ponte recalls, "con- 
sisted primarily of holding our sector, pin- 
pointing targets of opportunity, delivering 
mortar and artillery fire on these targets, 
and patrolling the flanks and rear of our 
position . . . ." 86 There were not enough 
men left to do more. 



On 10 December, three days after Major 
Boerem took over from Major Baetcke, the 
effective American strength west of the 
Girua was 635 ; on 13 December it was 547. 
By 1 9 December Boerem had 510 effectives ; 
by Christmas Eve the number had gone 
down to 417. On New Year's Day, the day 
after Major Irwin took command, the 
Americans had suffered 979 casualties — 73 
killed, 234 wounded, 84 missing, and 588 
evacuated sick — and there were only 244 
men left in condition to fight. 

Companies K and L had entered the bat- 
tle on 22 November at full strength; on 
Christmas Day they were down to sixty-one 
and thirty-six men respectively. A week later 
Company K had twenty-eight men left, 
Company L had seventeen, and the other 
companies had suffered proportionately. 37 

The condition of the effectives is well ex- 
pressed in the informal journal kept by 
Company K. The entry for Christmas Day 
noted that the men were sick and feverish, 
and that the situation was getting worse all 
the time. Three days later, it read: "The 
men are getting sicker. Their nerves are 
cracking. They are praying for relief. 
[They] must have it soon." 38 But it was to 
be some time before the men could be re- 
lieved. Brigadier Porter had no troops with 
which to replace them. Until he did, they 
would have to remain where they were, 
despite their steadily worsening physical 
condition. 



" 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 3, 4, 9, 26 Dec 42, 
Ser 3, 27 Dec 42, Ser 10, 20 Dec 42, Sers 11, 14, 31 
Dec 42, Ser 4, 1 Jan 43, Sers 9, 10, 2 Jan 43; Jnl, 
Maj Boerem's Force, 26 Dec 42 — 2 Jan 43 ; Memo, 
Dal Ponte for author, 16 Jul 50; Ltr, Boerem to 
author, 2 Nov 51; Ltr, Dal Ponte to author, 17 
Jan 52. 

M Memo, Dal Ponte for author, 16 Jul 50. 



31 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 1, 25 Dec 42, Ser 1, 
1 Jan 43, Ser 9, 2 Jan 43 ; Jnl, Maj Boerem's Force, 
10 Dec 42, 24 Dec 42, 25 Dec 42, 1 Jan 43 ; Jnl, Co 
K, 126th Inf, 25 Dec 42, 31 Dec 42; Jnl, Co I, 
126th Inf, 1 Jan 43; 126th Inf CT AAR, Papuan 
Campaign. 

M Jnl, Co K, 126th Inf, 25, 28 Dec 42. 



THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 



231 



The Japanese Reinforce 
the Beachhead 

The Enemy Situation 

Attacking northward from Huggins and 
Kano, Brigadier Dougherty continued to 
find the going exceedingly difficult. His 
troops were at grips with the Japanese in- 
termediate defense line, a line seemingly as 
strong as that on which Brigadier Porter was 
working lower down on the track. This line, 
which had come under General Oda's com- 
mand upon his arrival at Giruwa on 21 
December, included a forward and a rear 
position. The forward position was at the 
junction of the Sanananda track and the 
subsidiary trail leading to Cape Killerton. 
It consisted of two independent perimeters, 
one on either side of the track. The rear 
position cut across the track and the trail 500 
yards farther to the northeast and was about 
1,500 yards long. Its main defenses con- 
sisted of three interconnected perimeters 
straddling the east-west stretch of the 
track — two north of it and one south. 

Oda commanded a sizable force : the 
troops of the 41st Infantry who had come 
in from the Kumusi with Colonel Yazawa; 
the remainder of the 144th Infantry re- 
placements who had arrived from Rabaul 
on 23 November; approximately 300 men 
of the 15th Independent Engineer Regi- 
ment; the remaining strength of the 47th 
Field Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion; a 
battery of the 55th Mountain Artillery; 
and a number of walking wounded. His 
troops were not only strongly entrenched 
in bunkers, but they could also be rein- 
forced at will from troops in reserve at 
Sanananda and Giruwa. 30 Theoretically at 



18th Army Opns I, 20, 21, 26. 



least, Oda was in as favorable a position to 
hold the second line of defense as Colonel 
Tsukamoto had been to hold the first. 

Fortunately for the Allies, the enemy sup- 
ply situation was desperate. The Japanese, 
especially Colonel Tsukamoto's troops in 
the track junction, were short of food, weap- 
ons, grenades, and all types of ammunition. 
Colonel Tsukamoto's troops had to depend 
on the dribbles of food that could be sup- 
plied them via the Killerton trail, and they 
were on the verge of starvation. General 
Oda's troops were not much better off. They 
were down to a handful of rice a day and 
were eating roots, grass, crabs, snakes, or 
whatever else they could find in the area 
that was edible. 40 

The hospital at Giruwa was a scene of un- 
mitigated horror. There was no medicine 
and no food. The wards were under water; 
most of the medical personnel were dead 
and those who remained were themselves 
patients.' 11 

On 1 1 December, Colonel Yokoyama 
tried to give Rabaul some intimation of how 
bad conditions really were. The picture was 
so black that General Adachi's operations 
officer, Lt. Col. Shigeru Sugiyama, replied 
that he doubted that things had really 
reached such a pass. "It is hard to believe," 



w Yokoyama Bet Bui, 2 Dec 42; Yokoyama Det 
Orders No. A-17, 5 Dec 42. Both in ATIS CT 18, 
No. 229. Diary, Sgt Wada Kiyoshi, 3d Bn, 144th 
Inf; Diary, Sgt Hiroshi Kasahara, 41st Inf. Both in 
32d Div Interrogations and Translations File. 18th 
Army Opns I, 25, 26, 33. 

11 Yokoyama Det Bui, Giruwa; Msg, Col Tomita 
to CofS 17th Army, 23 Nov 42. Both in ATIS EP 29. 
Intcrr, Lt Sawatari, Med Off, 144th Inf, in 32d Div 
Interrogations and Translations File; 18th Army 
Opns I, 25. 



232 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Sugiyama wrote, "that the situation is as 
difficult as stated." 42 

Rabaul was probably more worried about 
the situation at the beachhead than it cared 
to admit. It had planned to establish a ma- 
jor supply base at the mouth of the Mam- 
bare River, with a secondary base at the 
mouth of the Kumusi. Submarines would 
bring in the supplies from Rabaul to the base 
in Mambare Bay where they would be un- 
loaded. Later, they would be reloaded on 
large cargo-carrying landing craft, and the 
landing craft traveling at night would bring 
them forward by stages to Giruwa. 

The plan, well conceived and carefully 
worked out, had already broken down. For 
no sooner would the submarines bring in 
supplies than Lieutenant Noakes, the coast 
watcher in the area, would find out where 
they were stored and radio the information 
to Port Moresby. A few hours later, the air 
force would reach the scene, blow up the 
enemy dumps, and usually account for some 
of the landing craft as well. 48 

To add to the enemy's difficulties, a U. S. 
motor torpedo boat squadron, Task Force 
50.1, based at Tufi since 20 December, was 
ranging the coast west of Gona to intercept 
Japanese coastwise shipping. On Christmas 
Eve, the squadron sank the 1-18, a 344-foot, 
3,180-ton submarine just off the mouth 



" Msg, Col Yokoyama to CofS 18th Army, 1 1 Dec 
42, with reply from Lt Col Shigeru Sugiyama, in 
ATIS CT 26, No. 314. 

43 Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 26, 27, 28, 30 Dec 
42; 18th Army Opns I, 34; Feldt, The Coast Watch- 
ers, p. 196. The Japanese finally had to give up 
trying to establish bases either at the Mambare or 
the Kumusi. Noakes was later awarded the Legion 
of Merit. The citation is in WDGO No. 15, 7 
Mar 45. 



of the Mambare. Later the same night, it 
destroyed two large Japanese barges filled 
with troops, fifteen or twenty miles east of 
Mambare Bay. The troops were part of the 
rear echelon of the 1st Battalion, 170th In- 
fantry, which had finally received sufficient 
landing craft to get it through to the Ambo- 
ga River area. This was the only mishap the 
troops were to suffer in transit. The rest of 
them reached their destination safely that 
night and reported to General Yamagata. 41 

Yamagata is Ordered Forward 

General Adachi had apparently decided 
to hold the rest of the 170th Infantry at 
Rabaul until the supply situation at the 
beachhead had clarified itself. On 26 De- 
cember he ordered Yamagata to get his 
troops to Giruwa immediately. Yamagata 
complied at once by ordering a 430-man 
advance echelon to the beachhead the fol- 
lowing day. The echelon, which included 
elements of the 1st Battalion, 170 Infantry, 
the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry, the brigade 
engineer unit, the regimental gun company, 
and the regimental signal unit, began leav- 
ing for Giruwa that night by barge. The 
movement went so smoothly, and was so 
well-executed, that all the troops got through 
without being detected by either the Air 
Force, Task Force 50.1, or the Australian 
patrols operating along the coast. 

General Yamagata himself arrived at 
Giruwa on 29 December with part of the 
3d Battalion, 170th Infantry, Only a rear 
guard made up of elements of the 1st Bat- 



u Comdr Robert J. Bulkley, USNR, A History of 
Motor Torpedo Boats in the U.S. Navy, copy in 
Office of Nav Hist; 18th Army Opns I, 25, 26. 



THE FIGHTING WEST OF THE GIRUA 



233 



talion, 170 Infantry, and the 3d Battalion, 
170th Infantry, remained in the Amboga 
River area, with the mission of engaging 
the Australians as long as possible. The rest 
of Yamagata's troops reached Giruwa by 
the 31st. The 21st Brigade, which was mop- 
ping up along the banks of the Amboga, 
knew nothing of the move. Between 700 and 



800 men had successfully reached Giruwa, J ' 
the last reinforcements the Japanese were to 
receive. 

1S ALF Daily Opns Rpts No. 259, 29 Dec 42, No. 
262, 1 Jan 43; Interr, Superior Pvt Toshio Furu- 
kawa, 1st Bn, 41st Inf; Interr, Sgt Jinsaburo Hirose, 
1st Bn, 170th Inf. Both in 32d Div Interrogations 
and Translations Files. Diary, Maj Nojiri; Diary, 
Lt Hikoshige Jin, 3d Bn, 170th Inf, in ATIS GT 28, 
No. 339; 18th Army Opns I, 25, 26. 



CHAPTER XIII 



Buna: The Second Two Weeks 



The 3 2d Division's supply situation, hope- 
lessly inadequate in late November, began 
to improve in early December. There were 
many reasons for the improvement. Air- 
drops and emergency movements by sea had 
staved off disaster, and the arrival of sup- 
plies which General Harding had requisi- 
tioned some time before helped the division 
to overcome the most pressing of its logisti- 
cal difficulties. The opening of additional 
airfields at Dobodura and Popondetta, the 
completion of the Dobodura Simemi jeep 
track and other tracks, the arrival of a new 
flotilla of luggers to replace those which had 
been destroyed in November, the establish- 
ment of a separate service organization at 
Dobodura known as Alma Force, General 
Eichelberger's efforts, the efforts of Col. 
George DeGraaf, his quartermaster officer, 
and the continuing efforts of the division's 
supply officers — all these things helped to 
improve the situation, and, for the first time 
since operations began, the pipeline began 
to fill. 1 

1 Msg, Gen Harding to Coindr Sinclair, ANF, 
Ser 186, 1 Dec 42; Msg, Maj Milton F. Ziebell, 
S-3, 128th Inf, to Maj Chester M. Beaver, Ser 
1833, 1 Dec 42; Msg, 5th Air Force to Gen Hard- 
ing, Ser 1892, 2 Dec 42; Msg, Gen Eichelberger to 
GOC NGF, Ser 1990., 3 Dec 42; Msg, NGF to 
NOIC, Porlock Harbor, Ser 2122, 3 Dec 42; Msg, 
Maj Hall, 2/1 Aust Fid Rgt, to Brig L. E. S. 
Barker, Comdr Royal Australian Arty, 7th Aust Div, 
Ser 2035, 3 Dec 42 ; Msg, NGF to 32d Div, Ser 
2069, 3 Dec 42; Interv with Lt Col Carrol] K. 
Moffatt, formerly CO Port Det E, COSC, Buna, 30 
Oct 49; Hist 114th Engr Bn (C) ; Rpt, CG Buna 
Forces, pp. 17, 21, 23; Eichelberger, Out Jungle 
Road to Tokyo, pp. 26, 34-36. 



7 he Attack of 5 December 
Regrouping the Troops 

On both the Warren and Urbana fronts 
the inspection of 2 December found the 
Allied units, in the words of General Eichel- 
berger, "scrambled like eggs." He at once 
ordered them regrouped and reorganized. 
On the Warren front, Company I, 128th 
Infantry, which had been operating under 
Colonel Carrier's command off the south- 
west end of the strip, was returned to 
Colonel Miller, and Company A, 126th 
Infantry, which had been under Colonel 
McCoy's command off the southeast end of 
the strip, was returned to Colonel Carrier. 
Colonel Miller's 3d Battalion, 128th In- 
fantry, was disposed to the right of the strip 
and took up position in an arc extending 
from the sea to a point just below the dis- 
persal bays at the eastern end of the strip, 
Colonel McCoy's 1st Battalion, 128th In- 
fantry, moved in on Miller's left, just below 
(south of) the strip, and Major Harcourt's 
2/6 Independent Company covered the gap 
between Carrier and McCoy. Warren Force 
had no reserve, but each battalion held small 
reserve elements out of the line. 

On the Urbana front, units of the 2d 
Battalion, 126th Infantry, which had been 
outposting Entrance Creek north of the 
Coconut Grove rejoined their battalion and 
the Cannon Company, 128th Infantry, in 
front of Buna Village. The 2d Battalion, 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



235 



128th Infantry, took over the sector fol- 
lowing the west bank of Entrance Creek. 
Company F, 128th Infantry, continued 
as before to hold the blocking positions 
between the Girua River and Siwori Creek." 

During the previous week the average 
daily ration for troops on both fronts had 
consisted of a single can of meat component 
and an emergency bar of concentrated 
chocolate, just enough to subsist on. Though 
the stockpile of rations was still short, the 
men ate their first full meal in some time on 
3 December, and preparations began for a 
scheduled attack the next day. 1 

The New Commanders Take Over 

When Colonel Martin went forward to 
the Warren front earlv on 3 December to 
take command, he discovered first of all 
that the troops "had little in the nature of 
weapons and equipment of what was nor- 
mally considered necessary to dislodge an 
enemy from a dug in, concealed position." 1 
His forward CP, he found, was "a single 
shelter half suspended horizontally about 
five feet from the ground, under which the 
CP telephone rested against a log on the 
ground." Maj. Milton F. Zicbcll, the regi- 
mental S 3, had with him, Martin remem- 
bers, a printed map "inaccurate for artillery 
fire," and "half of a small writing tablet, the 
kind selling in ten cent stores for a dime, and 
a pencil." When Martin asked the adjutant 



2 Msg, Gen Waldron to NGF, Ser 2032, 3 Dec 
42: Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 20, with accompany- 
ing situation maps, 2, 3, and 4 Dec 42: Ltr, Col 
Mar.N'ab to Gen Ward, 7 Mar 51. 

: Ltr, Gen Eichelbergcr to Gen Sutherland, 3 Dec 
42: Ltr, Grn Eichelberger to Gen MacArthur, 12 
Jan 43. Copies of both in OCMH files. Rpt, CG 
Buna Forces, pp. 92, 93. 

4 Ltr, Col Martin to Gen Ward, 6 Mar 51. 



for his files, the latter "patted the pocket of 
his denim jacket which was a shade of black 
from the swamp mud, and said that he was 
keeping what he could there." 

Colonel Martin set himself to improve 
conditions, despite the prevailing "lack of 
almost everything with which to operate." 
One of the first things he did upon taking 
command was to call an officers' meeting at 
which he told his officers that the men 
"would be required to do all they could to 
better their conditions, their personal ap- 
pearance, and their equipment." Sanitation 
would be improved. More attention would 
be paid to the care of equipment, and offi- 
cers would cease commiserating with the 
troops and abetting them in the "feeling 
sorry for ourselves attitude" that he had 
noticed during his inspection the day before. 

The command was to be informed, he 
said further, that there would be no relief 
until "after Buna was taken." Martin knew 
that this news would come as a shock, "but 
I was certain," he adds, "that after the 
shock was over, the troops knowing their 
task would fight better than those just hang- 
ing on and continually looking over their 
shoulders for relief to come." 1 

Unlike Colonel Martin, Colonel Grose 
had little opportunity to inspect his forces 
before he took command. He came in by air 
from Australia on the morning of 3 De- 
cember and made a hurried inspection of 
the Urbana front that afternoon. Next day 
when he took command, he found Colonel 
McCreary supervising a reorganization of 
the positions, and he asked General Eichel- 
berger to postpone the attack for a day. 
General Eichelberger granted the request, 
though with considerable reluctance, and 



'■Ibid. 



236 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



I . . ' Xi, . . ft 





2LXJ IZ6 

5 DEC, i ^„*T 

*** -111 

S9? V ..i 




U RBANA FRONT 



WARREN AND URBANA FRONTS 

I - 1© December 1942 

----- Front line, 30 November 

i^— Position reached S December 
mmm Position established by slms 2/128, 16 dec 
Alt positions are approximate 
a soo looo yards 



I ihe triangle 



fa, ^( 



t ~ .... — 

o »6o rooo meters re x» c g f offw* 



the attack there and on the Warren front 
was set for 5 December." 

The Arrival of the Bren Carriers 

Late on the evening of 3 December a 
section of five Bren gun carriers arrived by 
boat from Porlock Harbor. The rest of the 
cargo included forty tons of food and am- 
munition, a shipment that was particularly 
welcome inasmuch as Warren Force had 
run out of rations that day. The carriers 
were quickly unloaded and given to Colonel 

" Col Grose's Diary, 3 Dec 42, 4 Dec 42 ; Interv 
with Col Grose, 15 Nov 50; Ltr, Col Grose to Gen 
Ward, 26 Feb 51. 



Martin for use on the 5 th in the attack on 
the Japanese positions in the Duropa Planta- 
tion. As soon as they could, Colonel Martin 
and Colonel MacNab gave Lt. T. St. D. 
Fergusson, who commanded the carriers, a 
briefing on the terrain. They stressed the 
likelihood that his carriers might be 
"bellied" by stumps and other obstacles in 
the plantation area. The next day, MacNab 
sent Fergusson and 1st Lt. David Anderson, 
commanding officer of the regimental Re- 
connaissance Platoon, to make a daylight 
reconnaissance of the area. Though under 
no illusions about the risk of the attack, 
Fergusson reported that he believed his car- 
riers could negotiate the ground. To provide 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



237 




insurance against unforeseen contingencies 
he requested additional automatic weapons 
for his men, and was promptly given all the 
weapons he asked for. 7 

Sending the thin-skinned vehicles, open 
at the top and unarmored below, against 
the formidable enemy positions in the plan- 
tation area was a desperate venture at best. 
The least the Americans could do was to 
give the Australian crews, who were to spear- 
head the attack, all the weapons they 
could use. 

'3d Br,, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1430, 4 Dec 42; 128th 
Inf Jnl, Scr 34, 4 Dec 42 ; Msg, Co] Martin to Gen 
Waldron, Ser 2033, 3 Dec 42; Ltr, Col MacNab to 
author, 15 Aug 50. 



Reorganization and regrouping were 
completed on 4 December. Fortified by an 
unwonted and much-needed two-day rest, 
the troops received rations and ammunition 
and prepared to resume operations under 
their new commanders. 

Colonel Yamamoto's forces and those of 
Captain Yasuda were ready. Yamamoto had 
the bulk of his relatively fresh 144th and 
229th Infantry troops in the plantation and 
at the northeast end of the New Strip. 
The rest were holding the bridge between 
the strips, together with the troops of the 
15th Independent Engineer Regiment and 
of the 47th Field Antiaircraft Battalion orig- 



238 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



inally assigned there. * Captain Yasuda had 
his Yokosuka 5th and Sasebo 5th Special 
Naval Landing troops, supported by naval 
pioneer units in the village, the Triangle, 
and the mission. The Japanese had thrown 
back every attack thus far, and they were 
ready to continue doing so. 

The plan for the American-Australian at- 
tack scheduled for 5 December was em- 
bodied in a field order drawn up the day 
before by General Waldron. Warren Force 
and the five Bren gun carriers, supported by 
elements of the Fifth Air Force and the 
artillery, were to attack the Japanese posi- 
tions in the Duropa Plantation-Buna 
Strips area at 0830. Their objective encom- 
passed the entire area east of a line drawn 
along the coast southwest from Strip Point 
and extending inland to the Old Strip. Ur- 
bana Force, also supported by artillery and 
air bombardment, was to jump off at 1000 
with the mission of taking Buna Village. 
Both attac king forces were to make an al 
out effort. 



(Map 12 



The Attack on the Right 

On the Warren front Colonel Miller's 
battalion was to be on the right, nearest the 
sea. Colonel McCoy's battalion was to be 
on Miller's left, and Colonel Carrier was 
to be on the far left, with the 2/6 Independ- 
ent Company intervening between him and 
McCoy. Company L and the Bren carriers 
were to attack straight up the coast on a 
200-yard front. Company I was to follow 



* Yokoy/mui Det Orders, 16 Nov 42, in .41 IS KP 
29; 18th Army Opns I, pp. 20-21. The Milk and 
229th Infantry troops under Yamamoto's command 
came in with him from Rabaul on 17 November, 
and were thus fresher than any of their attackers. 

"32d Div Ft) No. 2, 4 Dee 42; Ltr, On Eiehel- 
bertrer to Gen Sutherland, 4 Dee 42, copv in 
OCMH files. 



in column on Company L's left rear, and 
machine gun crews of Company M were 
to be disposed along the line of departure 
and immediately to the rear to clean out 
snipers in trees and give direct support to 
the advance. Colonel McCoy's leading unit, 
Company A, 1 28th Infantry, was to move 
in on Company L's left and attempt to cross 
the eastern end of the New Strip. Colonel 
Carrier's 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry, was 
to advance northward against the bridge 
between the strips. Patrols of the Australian 
Independent Company were to make what- 
ever gains they could in the area between 
Carrier and McCoy."' 

Between 0820 and 0835 on the morning 
of 5 December, six A-20's bombed and 
strafed the area between the Old Strip and 
Cape Endaiadere. The artillery began to 
fire at 0830. Supported by mortar and ma- 
chine gun fire from Company M, the Bren 
carriers and Company L left the line of de- 
parture at 0842. They immediately ran into 
heavy fire from a barricade near the coast, 
and from concealed positions on their left 
front and left. As had been feared, the Bren 
carriers bellied up badly on the uneven 
stump-filled ground and their progress was 
slow. As they rose high in the air to clear 
stumps and other obstacles, they were easy 
targets for enemy machine gunners. To com- 
plete the job, the Japanese tossed hand gren- 
ades over the sides, threw "sticky" bombs 
that clung to the superstructures, and scored 
several direct hits with an antitank gun. 
Within twenty minutes they had knocked 
out all five vehicles — three just outside the 
Allied lines and two within their own. The 
carrier crews suffered heavily. Lieutenant 
Fergusson was wounded, and thirteen of 



10 Msg, Maj Ziebetl to Col MacNab, Ser 2137, 4 
Dee. +2: 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1300, 1430, 1635, 
1 700, 4 Dee 42. 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



239 




DISABLED BREN GUN CARRIERS m the Duropa Plantation. 



the twenty others in the carriers were killed, 
wounded, or missing. 

Eergusson's second-in-command, Lt. Ian 
Walker, heard of the disaster shortly after it 
happened. Erom his post at the rear where 
he had been attending to the housekeeping 
needs of the platoon, he left for the front on 
the run, accompanied by a single enlisted 
man of his command. Covered by fire from 
Company L, 128th Infantry, the two men 
methodically removed the guns and ammu- 
nition from the three closest carriers. Walker 
then ordered the enlisted man back, took up 
a submachine gun, and went forward alone 
toward the two remaining carriers intending 
to recover their guns as well. Before he could 



reach the nearer of the two carriers, he fell 
mortally w r ounded. The Japanese succeeded 
in stripping the gutted hulks of the two car- 
riers that night before a patrol of Warren 
Force sent out to recover the guns could get 
to them. 11 

In attempting to support the Bren car- 
riers in their disastrous attack, Capt. Samuel 
M. Horton's Company L, 128th Infantry, 
had also been hit hard. The center platoon 

11 32d Div G-3 Jnl File, Ser 2357, 5 Dec 42; 
128th Inf Jnl, Scrs 1, 1 1, 13, 2 7, 30, 51, 60, 5 Dec 
42: 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 0820, 0830, 0835, 0842, 
1515, 1712, 1840, 5 Dec 42: Rpt, CG Buna Forces, 
p. 21. Walker was posthumously awarded the Dis- 
tinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ 
SWPA GO No. 7, 15 Jan 43. 



240 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



suffered so many casualties during the first 
half-hour of the fighting that it had to have 
help from the left platoon, which was itself 
under heavy fire. A platoon of Company I 
had to plug the resulting gap on the left 
before the attack could continue. 

The men tried to push forward but were 
unable to. They were blocked, not only by 
the heavy fire that came from behind the 
still-unreduced log barricade a few yards 
in from the coast and from the hidden and 
carefully sited strongpoints in the planta- 
tion, but by the intense heat of the morning. 
Man after man of Colonel Miller's battalion 
gave way to heat prostration. By 1010 the 
battalion had gained less than forty yards, 
and it could make no further advance that 
day.' 2 

A few minutes after the 3d Battalion at- 
tack, the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry be- 
gan its move. At 0855 the eighty-three men 
of Company A, under 1st Lt. Samuel J. 
Scott, pushed off in the Y-shaped dispersal 
area at the eastern end of the New Strip. 
Company B was on Scott's left rear, waiting 
to go in. Company D was disposed along 
the line of departure, supporting the ad- 
vance by fire. Scott's troops moved slowly 
and cautiously through the tall grass. 
Despite the heat and heavy casualties from 
enemy fire, they made good progress at 
first, and by 1 100 most of them were across 
the lower arm of the Y, There they were 
halted by rifle grenade, mortar, and ma- 
chine gun fire from three directions. By 
noon Japanese action and heat prostration 
had cut deep into Company A's strength, 
and Company B, under 1st Lt. Milan J. 



IJ 128th Inf Jnl, Sers 24, 27, 30, 36, 46, 72, 5 
Dec 42- 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 0935, 0938, 1010, 
1035, 1120, 1640, 5 Dec 42. 



Bloecher, had to be ordered in on its left to 
relieve the pressure. 1 1 

Company B reached the southeastern end 
of the strip two hours later at a point just 
west of the dispersal area occupied by Com- 
pany A. Setting up light machine guns on 
the left to cover the strip, Bloecher tried to 
move his men across, but without success. 
As the men crawled out of the sheltering 
tall grass into the heat-ridden strip, heavy 
enemy fire from bunkers and hidden firing 
positions in the area immobilized them. 
Those who managed to get halfway across 
the strip could move neither forward nor 
back. Since further advance was impossible, 
the company began to consolidate at the 
eastern end of the strip. 

Company A was meanwhile having an 
even rougher time than in the morning. At 
the center of the Y the troops encountered 
almost point-blank fire that came at them 
from three directions. All attempts to cross 
the northern prong of the Y failed. Men who 
tried to advance were caught in the enemy's 
crossfire and either wounded or killed. By 
late afternoon the situation was seen to be 
hopeless, and Colonel Martin ordered the 
company to pull back as soon as it could. 
That evening he relieved it." 

At the western end of the strip Colonel 
Carrier's battalion did little better. The 
two companies in attack — A on the right 
and C on the left — moved out against the 
bridge between the strips at 0850 and at 
first reported good progress. Aided by the 
mortars and the detachment's 37-mm. gun, 
they succeeded in knocking out seven enemy 



13 128th Inf Jnl, Sers 67, 5 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, Sers 11, 33, 34, 3 7, 40, 44, 60, 5 Dec 42. 

u Msg, Maj Zitbell to 32d Dk, Scr 2357, 5 Dee 
42; 128th Inf Jnl, Sers 21, 40, 43, 67, 70, 73, 108, 
113, 5 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 52, 58, 
60, 67, 70, 5 Dec 42. 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



241 



pillboxes during the first two hours of fight- 
ing. With the enemy fire from the pillboxes 
suppressed, the troops began to close on the 
bridge, only to be halted by heavy fire from 
front and left when they w _ ere only 150 yards 
from their objective. Artillery fire was 
called for, but it proved ineffective. The 
Japanese fire only increased in intensity. 

Colonel Carrier's troops, suffering from 
the heat like the companies on the right, 
made repeated attempts to advance, but the 
enemy fire was too heavy. Frontal attack 
was abandoned; Company B relieved Com- 
pany A, and an attempt was made to cross 
Simemi Creek in the hope of flanking the 
bridge. The attempt was given up because 
there was quicksand reported in the cross- 
ing area and the creek was too deep. At the 
end of the day's fighting the Japanese still 
held the bridge between the strips, and 
Colonel Carrier's troops were dug in about 
200 yards south of it. 1 " 

The "all-out'" attack of Warren Force 
had failed all along the line, and Colonel 
Yamamoto had the situation in hand. 16 As 
Colonel Martin put it in a phone call to 
General Byers that night: "We have hit 
them and bounced off." 17 

Bottcher's Break-Through 

On 4 December Colonel Tomlinson and 
126th Infantry headquarters moved from 
Sanananda to the Urbana front, and ad- 



35 128th Inf Jnl, Sers 23, 39, 47, 61, 77, 93, 5 
Dec 42; 1st Bn 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 506, 508, 510, 
518, 526, 530, 532, 5 Dec 42. 

M Tel Msg, Capt Manning, RAA, to 32d Div, Ser 
2013, 3 Dec 42; Msg, 32d Div to NGF, Ser 2057, 
3 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Ser 31, 35, 3 Dec 
42; 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1515, 3 Dec 42. On 3 
December Japanese bombers, escorted by Zeros, had 
parachuted food and ammunition onto the northern 
end of the Old Strip for Yamainoto's troops. 

17 128th Inf Jnl, Ser 128. 5 Dec 42. 



vance parties of the 127th Infantry— 
which was also to be committed to the 
Urbana front — began reaching Dobodura.'* 
By this time the troops in the line — the 2d 
Battalion, 126th Infantry, the 2d Battalion, 
128th Infantry, and the Cannon Company, 
128th Infantry — had had a little rest. They 
would now have another chance to finish 
the job that they had not been quite able 
to complete on the 2d. 

The plan of attack called for the Cannon 
Company, 128th Infantry, and the 2d Bat- 
talion, 126th Infantry, to attack at specified 
points on the perimeter of Buna Village. 
Having suffered very heavy losses during 
previous attacks, Company F would be in 
reserve. The Cannon Company would re- 
main on the left of the 126th Infantry and 
continue as before to support its operations. 
Colonel Smith's 2d Battalion, 128th Infan- 
try, on Major Smith's right would complete 
the investiture of the left bank of Entrance 
Creek. Air and artillery bombardment 
would support the attacks. From positions 
behind the large grassy strip west of En- 
trance Creek, eight 81 -mm. mortars would 
fire on the village. The troops of Company 
F, 128th Infantry, from their positions on 
the west side of the Girua River, would fire 
upon it with two 81-mm. mortars, a 37-mm. 
gun, and an assortment of light and heavy 
machine guns. 

Colonel Grose went to the front early on 
the morning of 5 December. After getting 
the men into line and making a final check 
of their positions, he returned to his CP 
about 1015 to find both General Eichel- 
berger and General Waldron there. A num- 
ber of other officers were present including 



" Msg, Adv NGF to 32d Div, Ser 2086, 3 Dec 42 ; 
Msg, NGF to G-2, I Corps, Ser 2090, 4 Dec 42 ; 2d 
Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 1400, 4 Dec 42; 127th Inf, The 
Battle for Buna. 



242 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Colonel DeGraaf, Colonel Rogers, Colonel 
McCreary, Colonel Tomlinson, Lt. Col. 
Merle H. Howe, the division G-3, and Gen- 
eral Eichelberger's aide, Captain Edwards. 
The attack had opened at 1 000 with a raid 
on the mission by nine B-25's. Eichelberger 
and his party were briefed on how the ac- 
tion was progressing and then went for- 
ward to observe the fighting. 

After the B-25's hit the target area, the 
artillery and the mortars began firing on the 
village. At 1030 the fire ceased, and the in- 
fantry moved forward. The Cannon Com- 
pany, 128th Infantry, attacked along the 
east bank of the Girua River. On its right 
Companies E and G attacked abreast, with 
Company H supporting the attack with fire. 
Pivoting short from the line of departure, 
the units fanned out against the enemy 
perimeter, and Companies E and G in the 
center hit directly against the village. 1 " 

The Japanese commander in the area, 
Navy Captain Yosuda, had a few hundred 
men in the village — enough for his imme- 
diate purpose. With the help of the bunk- 
ers, barricades, and trenches available to 
his men, he could count on holding the vil- 
lage for some time, even though it was his 
least defensible position. 1 '" 

The attack met strong opposition. On the 
far left the Cannon Company ran into heavy 
fire when it emerged onto an open space 
south of the village. The company sent out 



2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 1400, 1550, 4 Dec 42, 
0730, 1008, 1030, 1100, 5 Dec 42; 2d Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, 1930, 5 Dec 42; Allied Air Forces Opns 
Rpt, 5 Dec 42 ; Msg, Adv NGF to 32d Div, Ser 2180, 
5 Dec 42; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 21, with Situa- 
tion Map, Urbana Force, 5 Dec 42 ; Eichelberger, 
Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 28. 

10 Intorr, Yoshiteru Toyashima, 15th Naval Pio- 
neer Unit, in 3 2d Div G-2 Interrogations and 
Translations File; 127th Inf Tact Hist, Papuan 
Campaign. 



patrols to flank the enemy, the mortar men 
on the west side of the Girua River began 
firing on the village to relieve the pressure, 
and a platoon of Company F, 126th Infan- 
try, under 1st Lt. Paul L. Schwartz, moved 
in to reinforce the Cannon Company. None 
of these measures worked. The enemy fire 
continued, and the company could not 
advance. 

Late in the afternoon Maj. Chester M. 
Beaver of the divisional staff took over com- 
mand of the company. Organizing a patrol 
with Lieutenant Schwartz as his second-in- 
command, Beaver managed to clear out the 
enemy positions immediately to the front 
and then crawled through muck to bring his 
patrol to a point just outside the village. 
Beaver and Schwartz had to withdraw when 
night fell, but by the following morning the 
Cannon Company and the Company F pla- 
toon were on the outskirts of the village, the 
position they had tried in vain to reach the 
day before. 21 

Company E, under Captain Schultz, also 
met tough opposition from the intrenched 
enemy. By dint of hard fighting, the line 
moved forward until it reached the Japa- 
nese main line of resistance about fifty yards 
from the village. There the advance was 
stopped completely, and the troops had to 
dig in. 

That the company pushed even that far 
in the face of the heavy enemy fire was due 
principally to the able leadership of two 
platoon leaders, 1st Lt. Thomas E. Knode 
and 1st Sgt. Paul R. Lutjens, who were 
severely wounded as they led their men in 



n 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 1105, 1115, 1117, 1345, 
1410, 1554, 1730, 5 Dec 42. Both Beaver and 
Schwartz were later awarded the Distinguished 
Service Cross. The citations are in GHQ SWPA, 
GO No. 1, 1 Jan 43. 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



243 



the day's fighting. The combat performance 
of a member of Lutjens' platoon, Sgt. 
Harold Fj. Graber, had also helped to push 
the line forward. When the platoon was 
pinned down, Sergeant Graber leaped to 
his feet, fired his light machine gun from 
the hip, and cleaned out a main Japanese 
strongpoint which had been holding up the 
advance — an act that cost him his life. 22 

Company G, under Captain Bailey, was 
also finding it difficult to make any progress. 
Disappointed that the attack had bogged 
down just outside the village, General 
Eichelberger took direct control of opera- 
tions. He called Grose forward to the ob- 
servation post and sent Colonel Tomlinson 
back to the command post. Then he ordered 
Company F to pass through Company E 
and take the village. Colonel Grose im- 
mediately protested the order. Instead of 
committing Company F, his last reserve, 
to the center of the line, Grose had hoped 
to use it at a more propitious moment on 
the left. He told General Eichelberger that 
there was nothing to be gained by hurrying 
the attack, that it was the kind of attack 
that might take "a day or two," but Gen- 
eral Eichelberger had apparently set his 
heart on taking Buna Village that day and 
overruled his protest. 2:! 

Summoned to the observation post, 1st 
Lt. Robert H. Odell, who had taken corn- 



ed Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 1330, 1345, 5 Dec +2; 
Kahn, "The Terrible Days of Company E," The 
Saturday Evening Post, 15 Jan 44. Knode, Lutjens, 
and Graber were all later awarded the Distin- 
guished Service Cross, and Lutjens was commis- 
sioned a 2d lieutenant. The citations for Knode and 
Lutjens are in GHQ SWPA GO No. 64, 28 Dec 42. 
Graber's posthumous award is in GO No. 1, 1 Jan 
43. 

21 Col Grose's Diary, 5 Dec 42 ; Interv with Col 
Grose, 15 Nov 50. 



mand of Company F a few days before, was, 
as he put it, "surprised to see a couple of 
generals — one a three star — in addition to 
the usual array of majors and colonels." To 
continue in Odell's own words, 

The Lieutenant General explained what he 
wanted, and after a brief delay, I brought up 
the company and deployed accordingly. 
Pravda [1st Sgt. George Pravda] was to take 
half the company up one side of the trail, and 
I the other half on the other side. We were 
given ten minutes to make our reconnaissance 
and to gather information from the most for- 
ward troops which we were to pass. It was 
intended that we finish the job — actually 
take the Village — and [it was thought] that we 
needed little more than our bayonets to do it. 
Well, off we went, and within a few minutes 
our rush forward had been definitely and 
completely halted. Of the 40 men who started 
with me, 4 had been (known) killed, and 18 
were lying wounded. Wc were within a few 
yards of the village, but with ... no chance 
of going a step further. . . . [Pravda] was 
among the wounded, and casualties were 
about as heavy on his side. 2,1 

Scarcely had Company F's attack in the 
center been brought to a halt when electri- 
fying news was received from Captain 
Bailey on the right. Instead of continuing 
the profitless attack directly on the village, a 
platoon of Company H under S. Sgt. Her- 
man J. F. Bottcher, which had been at- 
tached to Company G, had pushed north 
from its position on the far right. Knocking 
out several pillboxes en route, Bottcher had 
successfully crossed a creek under enemy 
fire and by late afternoon had reached the 
beach with eighteen men and one machine 
gun. Bottcher, an experienced soldier who 
had served with the Loyalists in the Spanish 
Civil War, ordered his men to dig in at once 
on the edge of the beach. Attacks followed 



!1 Odell, Buna. 



244 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



from both the village and the mission, but 
Bottcher and his riflemen, with Bottcher 
himself at the machine gun, made short 
work of the enemy. The beach on either 
side of Bottcher's Corner (as the position 
came to be known) was soon piled with 
Japanese corpses, whom neither friend nor 
foe could immediately bury. 25 

Bottcher's break-through completed the 
isolation of the village. The Cannon Com- 
pany, 128th Infantry, and the 2d Battalion, 
1 26th Infantry, less Bottcher's platoon, were 
now pressed tightly against its inner defenses, 
and the troops at Bottcher's Corner made its 
reinforcement from the mission extremely 
difficult, if not impossible. 

Colonel Smith's 2d Battalion, 128th In- 
fantry had meanwhile invested the entire 
west bank of Entrance Creek except for the 
Coconut Grove. It was now in position to 
reduce the grove as well. With the village 
cut off and Entrance Creek outposted along 
its entire length, the early fall of the village 
was assured, provided the Japanese did not 
in the meantime succeed in their attempts to 
evict the attackers, particularly those at 
Bottcher's Corner. 2,5 

With Colonel Howe, his G-3, General 
Waldron had been pushing the assault per- 
sonally in the right center of the line. During 



25 Tel Msg, Col McCreary to Gen Waldron, Ser 
2207, 5 Dec 42; 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 1330, 5 Dec 
42; Interv, 1st Lt. Kenneth Hechler with Gen 
Waldron, Washington, D. C, 11 Mar 44; Ltr, Lt 
Col Herbert M. Smith to Gen Ward, 9 Mar 51; 
Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 2; Odell, Buna; Eichel- 
berger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, pp. 31, 32. 
Bottcher was later awarded the Distinguished Serv- 
ice Cross and given a direct battlefield commission 
as a captain. His citation for the DSC is in GHQ 
SWPA GO No. 64, 28 Dec 42. 

26 Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 21, with Situation 
Map, 5 Dec 42. 



Company F's attack he received a shoulder 
wound and had to be evacuated. On Gen- 
eral Eichelberger's orders, General Byers, 
his chief of staff, succeeded Waldron as 
commander of the troops at the front. 27 
Colonel Bradley, whom General Waldron 
had chosen to be his chief of staff, continued 
to serve in the same capacity under General 
Byers. Colonel McCreary, for two days com- 
mander of Urbana Force, and before that 
deputy to General Waldron when the latter 
was division artillery commander, took com- 
mand of the artillery and mortars on the 
Urbana front. 28 

General Eichelberger and his party de- 
parted for the rear about 1800, less Captain 
Edwards who had been wounded and evac- 
uated earlier in the day. Colonel Grose was 
left to reorganize. While he had not taken 
kindly to the way General Eichelberger had 
thrown Company F into the battle against 
his protest, Grose had nothing but praise 
for the way the troops had performed. 
"The battalion's men," he wrote that night 
in his diary, "have been courageous and 
willing, but they have been pushed almost 
beyond the limit of human endurance." 
They were, he continued, "courageous, fine 



27 Byers did not take command of the 32d Divi- 
sion, since Brig. Gen. Frayne Baker, commander of 
the division's rear echelon in Australia and, after 
Waldron, senior officer of the division, became divi- 
sion commander when Waldron was wounded and 
evacuated. Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Suther- 
land, 18 Dec 42, copy in OCMH files; Ltr, Gen 
Sutherland to Gen Ward, 6 April 51. Both Waldron 
and Howe were later awarded the Distinguished 
Service Cross. Waldron's citation is in GHQ SWPA 
GO No. 60, 18 Dec 42; Howe's, in GO No. 64, 28 
Dec. 42. 

!S Msg, Urbana Force to G-3, Buna Force, Ser 
2244, 5 Dec 42 : Msgs, Gen Byers to Gen Eichel- 
berger, Sers 2253, 2254, 5 Dec 42; Ltr, Col 
McCreary to Col Handy, GHQ AGF, Washington, 
11 Mar 43, copy in OCMH files. 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



245 



men," and all of them had given him "the 
utmost cooperation."" 1 ' 

Although the troops had not taken the 
village, General Eichelberger, who, with 
members of his staff, had taken a personal 
hand in the battle, had revised the opinion 
he expressed on 2 December that they 
lacked fight. Writing to General Sutherland 
the next day, Eichelberger noted that the 
troops had fought hard, that morale had 
been high, and that there had been "much 
to be proud of during the day's operations." 
General Herring, he said, had praised the 
bravery of the 32d Division highly. As far 
as he personally was concerned, Eichel- 
berger went on, General Mac Arthur could 
begin to stop worrying about its conduct in 
battle. 11 " 

Colonel Martin Softens Up the Enemy Line 
The New Tactics 

The complete failure on 5 December of 
the attack on the Warren front had satisfied 
General Eichelberger that the enemy line 
was too strong to be breached by frontal 
assault. In the course of a conversation held 
two days earlier with General Herring at 
Dobodura, he had learned that he could 
very shortly expect the arrival of tanks and 
fresh Australian troops for action on his 
side of the river. He decided therefore to 
try no more all-out frontal assaults on the 
Warren front until he had received the tanks 
and the promised reinforcements. Mean- 

x Col Grose's Diary, 5 Dec 42; Eichelberger, Our 
Jungle Road to Tokyo, pp. 30, 31. Col George 
DeGraaf, Colonel Rogers, and Captain Edwards, 
who intervened briefly in the fighting in the center, 
were all later awarded the Distinguished Service 
Cross. The citations are in GHQ SWPA GO No. 60, 
18 Dec 42. 

30 Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 6 Dec 
42, copy in OCMH files. 



while he intended to do everything possible 
to weaken the enemy line.' 11 

General Herring had suggested late on 5 
December that Eichelberger try pushing 
forward on the Warren front by concentrat- 
ing on the destruction of individual pill- 
boxes and machine gun nests which lay in 
the way. This job, General Eichelberger 
assured Port Moresby the next day, he had 
"already decided to do." Since the Japanese 
line on that front had been found to be very 
strong, he added, he would make the main 
effort for the time being on the left, "while 
containing the Japanese on [the] right." ' J - 
Instead of making frontal infantry assaults, 
which had gotten Warren Force nowhere, 
the troops now were to soften up the enemy 
line by attrition and infiltration, and to 
make the final break-through with the tanks 
when they arrived. 

General Eichelberger's orders to Colonel 
Martin were therefore to have his men begin 
vigorous patrolling in order to locate and 
pinpoint the individual enemy positions. As 
soon as they located an enemy strongpoint, 
they were to destroy it. The troops were to 
move forward by infiltration, and not by 
frontal assault. On 7 December Colonel 
Martin explained the new tactics to his bat- 
talion commanders. There were to be no 
more all-out attacks. Instead there was to be 
constant patrolling by small groups. After 
the artillery had worked over the enemy em- 
placements, the patrols were to knock them 
out one at a time, with mortar, grenade, and 
rifle. They were to subject the enemy line to 
constant probing. Instead of rushing ahead, 
they were to feel their way forward. Every 

n Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 6 
Dec 42; Intervs with Gen Eichelberger, 6 Feb 50, 
2fi Apr 50; Eichelberger, Out Jungle Road to 
Tokyo, p. 44. 

Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 6 
Dec 42. 



246 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



effort was to be made meanwhile to make 
the men comfortable. They were to be given 
their pack rolls if they wanted them, fed hot 
food, and allowed to rest.™ 

Intense patrolling became the order of 
the day on the Warren front. The 37-mm. 
guns and mortars fired on the bunkers as 
they were located, and the artillery, aided 
by Wirraways now based at Dobodura, 
joined in. But the 37-mm, guns and the mor- 
tars were too light to have much effect on 
the bunkers, and the 3.7-inch mountain 
howitzers and the 25-pounders using high- 
explosive shells with superquick fuse proved 
little more effective. Because it had a higher 
angle of fire and its shells had delay fuses, 
the 105-mm. howitzer was much better 
suited to the task, and soon proved itself to 
be the only weapon on the front which was 
effective against the enemy bunkers. By 
comparison, the 25-pounder with its flatter 
trajectory had only a limited usefulness. 
Not only was it often unable to clear the 
trees, but it could not drop its projectiles on 
the bunkers as could the 105." General 
Waldron put the matter in a sentence. "The 
25 pounders," he said, "annoyed the Japa- 
nese, and that's about all." 3,1 

The 105-mm. howitzer could have been 
even more effective had it been properly 



33 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Ser 20, 6 Dec 42, Sers 
3, 6, 7, 17, 7 Dec 42: 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1213, 
6 Dec 42; 128th Inf Jnl, Sers 4, 65, 6 Dec 42, Sers 
9, 13, 44, 7 Dec 42. 

"Tel Msg, Warren Force to 3 2d Div, Ser 2361, 
6 Dec 42; Tel Msgs, Maj Ziebell to 32d Div, Ser 
2454, 7 Dec 42, Ser 2693, 9 Dec 42 ; 1st Bn, 126th 
Inf, Jnl, Ser 541, 6 Dec 42, Sers 580, 582, 10 Dec 
42, Sers 592, 595, 1 1 Dec 42 ; 128th Inf Jnl, Ser 24, 
10 Dec 42; Ltr, Col Frank S. Bowen, Jr., G-3, I 
Corps, to Lt Col E. G. Smith, Rear Echelon, I 
Corps, 11 Jan 43, in I Corps Correspondence File; 
Gen Waldron, The Buna Campaign, copy in 
OCMH files. 

]! Interv, Lt Hechler with Gen Waldron, 11 Mar 
44. 



supplied with ammunition. But shells for 
it were very slow in coming forward. After 
having fired the initial few hundred rounds 
with which it reached the front, the 105 
had to remain silent for days. On 6 Decem- 
ber the I Corps ordnance officer at Port 
Moresby wrote to the front as follows: 
"I've been burning the air waves since 2 
December to have 800 rounds of 105-mm. 
ammunition flown [to you]. The stuff has 
been at Brisbane airdrome since the night of 
3 December. . . . The General asked for 
100 rounds per day for 10 days starting 
5 December, and there isn't a single damned 
round here." !,i 

Ammunition for the 105 finally began 
reaching the front during the second week 
in December, and then (apparently because 
of the priority situation) only in small 
amounts. Thus, for much of the time when 
it could have done most good, the 105 stood 
useless while artillery pieces less suited to the 
task tried vainly to deal with the Japanese 
bunker defenses. ' 7 

Colonel Martin wanted to move up a few 
of the artillery pieces for direct fire on the 
bunkers, but Warren Force had too few 
guns on hand to risk any of them so far for- 
ward. The arrival by sea on 8 December of 
two more 25-pounders then made it possible 
to shift the pieces. The two 25-pounders 
were emplaced just north of Hariko, and 
the O'Hare Troop (the three 3.7-inch 
howitzers of the 1st Australian Mountain 
Battery at Hariko) took up a new position 
about one mile below the bridge between 
the strips, completing the move on 1 1 De- 
cember. Even though the howitzers at once 

36 Ltr, Col Marshall Darby, Ord Off, I Corps, 
Moresby, to Col William E. McCreight, G-4, I 
Corps, 6 Dec 42, in I Corps Correspondence File. 

31 Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 75; Hist Buna Forces, 
I Corps Adv Echelon, in I Corps Correspondence 
File. 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



247 



began hitting Japanese positions behind 
both strips with greater effect than before, 
they were still able to make no apparent 
impression on the Japanese line, so well was 
the enemy entrenched. 38 

Throughout the battle the enemy had 
been achieving excellent results with grenade 
launchers. Impressed by their effectiveness 
the troops on the Warren front found time 
during this period of attritional warfare to 
experiment with rifle grenades. The experi- 
ments were conducted with Australian gre- 
nades since no American grenades were 
available. Using Australian rifles the men 
found the few grenades on hand very ef- 
fective. The small supply soon ran out, 
however, and they received no more during 
the campaign. 39 

The situation on Colonel Carrier's front 
during this period was one of unrelieved 
hardship. 

The positions occupied by the 1st Battalion, 
126th Infantry [General Martin recalls], were 
almost unbearably hot in the day time as the 
tropical sun broiled down, the grass shut off 
all air, and held in the steaming heat. Due to 
enemy observation any daylight movement 
among the forward positions had to be by 
crawling which added to the misery from the 
heat. There were cases of heat exhaustion 
daily, and some of the company commanders 
strongly urged the battalion commander to 
permit the troops to withdraw about 300 yards 
in dayiime to positions where there was shade, 
and reoccupy the froward positions at night. 

Martin overruled these requests. He felt 
that to allow daily withdrawals would con- 
tribute nothing to the harassing and soften- 
ing up of the enemy, "would be psycho- 

1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Scr 601, 11 Dec 42, Sri 
626, 13 Dec 42, Ser 646, 14 Dec 42: Rpt, CG Buna 
Forces, p. 76a. 

" J 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jn!, Sers 580, 583, 10 Dec 
42, Scr 595, 11 Dec 42: 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Ser 
33, 10 Dec 42, Ser 6, 1 1 Dec 42 : 3d Bn, 128th Inf, 
Jul, 1630, 10 Dec 42, 2030, 11 Dec 42. 



logically bad" for the troops, and "would 
hurt the rebuilding of their offensive 
spirit." J " 

The infantry attackers made few gains 
anywhere along the Warren front. Colonel 
Carrier's troops met repeated setbacks in 
their efforts to cross the bridge between the 
strips, and the forces under Colonel Miller 
and Colonel McCoy moved ahead only a 
few yards." 11 The fighting had settled down 
to a siege. 

With the fall of Gona, it became clear that 
the enemy's beachhead garrison could no 
longer be supplied easily by sea. But the 
Japanese could still use the air lanes. On 10 
December twenty medium naval bombers 
flew nonstop from Rabaul and dropped food 
and ammunition onto the Old Strip. This 
flight was the second — and last— air supply 
mission ordered by the enemy head- 
quarters at Rabaul/ 2 

On the same day, the 10th, Major Har- 
court's 2 6 Independent Company was re- 
turned to the 7th Division, and there were 
other changes on the Warren front. The 
three battalion commanders had begun 
showing signs of wear. When Colonel Car- 
rier, who was suffering from angina pectoris, 
had to be evacuated on 13 December, Gen- 
eral Eichelberger decided the time had come 
to change the other battalion commanders. 
Major Beaver replaced Colonel Carrier in 
command of the 1st Battalion, 126th Infan- 
try. Maj. Gordon Clarkson of I Corps took 



4 " Ltr, Gen Martin to Gen Ward, 6 Mar 51. 

41 Sitrep, Warren Force to 32d Div, Ser 2693, 9 
Dec 42; Msg, Warren Force S-2 to 32d Div, Ser 
2769, 10 Dec 42. 

4! Tcl Msg, Maj Ziebell to Gen Byers, Ser 2767, 
10 Dec 42: 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Scr 25, 10 Dec 
42; 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 1000, 10 Dec 42: G-2 
Hist Sec, GHQ FEC, Interv of Col Kazuyoshi 
Obata, Supply Staff Officer, 18th Army, Nov 42- 
Apr 44, copy in OCMH files; 18th Army Opns I, 
p. 46: Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 84. 



248 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



command of the 1st Battalion, 128th In- 
fantry, in place of Colonel McCoy, who re- 
turned to division headquarters. Colonel 
MacNab, executive officer of Warren Force 
under General MacNider, Colonel Hale, 
and Colonel Martin, successively, changed 
places with Colonel Miller to take command 
of the 3d Battalion, 128th Infantry, and 
Miller became executive officer to Colonel 
Martin. 43 

The attritional type of warfare ordered on 
the Warren front did not advance the line 
much, but the relentless pounding by the 
mortars and artillery and the sharp probing 
forays of the infantry were having exactly 
the effect intended by General Eichel- 
berger — wearing the enemy down physically 
and softening up his defenses for the final 
knockout blow. 

Urbana Force Makes Its First Gains 
The Capture of Buna Village 

Though relative quiet had descended on 
the W T arren front, bitter fighting had con- 
tinued almost without cease on the Urbana 
front. The Japanese in the village were 
virtually surrounded. Fire was hitting them 
frontally and from across Buna Creek, but 
they held their positions with extreme 



"Msg, 128th Inf to G-3, 3 2d Div, Se-r 2751, 10 
Dec 42; 128th Inf Jnl, Ser 20, 10 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 
126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 637, 13 Dec 42, Ser 650, 14 Dec 
42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Scr 15, 14 Dec 42; 128th 
Inf, Jnl, 1900, 1915, 13 Dec 42, 1300, 14 Dec. 42. 
"I am changing some of my leaders on the right 
flank" General Eichclberger told Port Moresby on 
the night of 13 December. "Young Glarkson," he 
continued, "who only left the military academy in 
1938 is going to take one of the battalions on the 
right flank and Carrier is being relieved by Major 
Beaver. I know Glarkson well, for I raised him from 
a pup. . . . He is full of fight and will do what 
I tell him." Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Suther- 
land, 13 Dec 42, copy in OCMH files. 



tenacity, and it began to look as if it would 
be necessary to root them out of their 
bunkers individually as had been the case at 
Gona. 

The 2d Battalion, 126th Infantry, was 
reorganized on 6 December. Colonel Grose 
had been promised command of the 127th 
Infantry, which was then on its way to the 
front, and left the reorganization to Colonel 
Tomlinson and Major Smith. He himself 
attended to supply matters and to the re- 
adjustment of the positions held by the 2d 
Battalion, 1 28th Infantry, on the right. Feel- 
ing that it was really Colonel Tomlinson's 
command and that there was no use in 
having two regimental commanders at the 
front, Colonel Grose asked General Byers 
when the latter visited him that afternoon 
that Colonel Tomlinson be given the com- 
mand. Byers agreed. Grose returned to the 
rear, and Tomlinson (who formally took 
command the next day) went on with prep- 
arations for an attack scheduled to be 
launched the next morning. 44 

The attack was to have better artillery 
support than before, with all the guns east 
of the river scheduled to go into action, 4 ' 
and the mortars also were to be used more 
effectively than before. Finding that the in- 
fantry could not control their mortar fire 
in the dense jungle, Colonel McCreary 
adopted an innovation in the use of mortars, 
based on artillery practice. He consolidated 
the seventeen available 81 -mm. mortars 
on his front into one unit, made a fire- 
direction chart from a vertical photograph, 
and by observation and mathematical cal- 
culation fixed the position of the mortars in 
relation to the Japanese positions. He 
formed the mortars into three batteries, two 



" Col Grose's Diary, 6 Dee 42; Ltr, Col Grose to 
Gen Ward, 26 Feb 5 1 ; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 23. 
ir ' 126th Inf Jnl, entries 6-7 Dee 42. 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



249 



of six guns, and one of five guns. After ad- 
justing the mortars and training the crews 
in artillery methods, he spent "the next two 
days 60 feet up in a tree less than 200 yards 
from the Jap forward elements, throwing 
hammer blow after hammer blow ( all guns 
firing at once fairly concentrated) on the 
strong localities, searching through Buna 
Village." 46 

The attack was to be mounted by the 2d 
Battalion, 126th Infantry, less the troops at 
Bottcher's Corner. Companies E and G were 
to attack on right and left, and the weapons 
crews of Company H, would support the 
attack by fire from a position to the right of 
Company G. The troops at Bottcher's Cor- 
ner would hold where they were, and Com- 
pany F would be available as required for 
the reinforcement of the other companies. 
The Cannon Company, 128th Infantry, 
now in regimental reserve, would take up a 
holding position in the area immediately 
below Musita Island, and the 2d Battalion, 
128th Infantry, would continue to hold on 
the 126th Infantry's right. 

The strike against the village was to be in 
the early afternoon of 7 December, but the 
Japanese moved first. At 0600 in the morn- 
ing, they attacked the troops at Bottcher's 
Corner from both the village and the mis- 
sion, but Bottcher's machine gun and the 
rifle fire of his troops (reinforced by a fresh 
platoon from Company H) broke up the 
attack. 47 Urbana Force telephoned the fol- 
lowing description of the action : "Bottcher 

" Ltr, Col McCreary to Col Handy, GHQ; AGF, 
1 1 Mar 43. In describing his method, McCreary, 
using the technical language of the artillerist, wrote 
that he had "restituted a vertical photograph to a 
1/10,000 fire direction chart," and "tied the mortars 
and our zone of action to the ground by survey and 
observed fire." 

4, 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 0640, 7 Dec 42; Tel 
Msg, Urbana Force to Gen Byers, Ser 2422, 7 Dec 
42. 



opened fire on the Buna Mission force first, 
stopping that attack. He then turned his 
gun on the Buna Village force, and stopped 
that attack. During the attack, Bottcher was 
shot in the hand. He was given first aid 
treatment, and is now commanding his 
gun." 48 

The story might have had a different end- 
ing had it not been for the alertness of Cpl. 
Harold L. Mitchell of Company H, who had 
joined Bottcher's little force the previous 
day. Acting as a forward outpost, Mitchell 
detected the enemy force from the village 
while it was creeping forward under cover of 
the jungle. Just as it was about to launch its 
attack, he charged at the Japanese suddenly 
with a loud yell and bayonet fixed. Mitchell 
so surprised and dumbfounded them that 
instead of continuing with the attack they 
hesitated and momentarily fell back. His yell 
alerted the rest of the force, with the result 
that when the Japanese finally did attack 
they were cut down. Mitchell escaped with- 
out a scratch. 4 " 

The flurry at Bottcher's Corner over, 
Companies E and G jumped off at 1335 
after a fifteen-minute artillery and mortar 
preparation. They met heavy opposition 
and made little headway against an enemy 
that held with fanatic determination. To 
encourage his troops in their attempts to 
advance, Major Smith moved to the most 
exposed forward positions. Less than an 
hour after the attack began he was severely 
wounded. Captain Boice, the regimental 
S-2, who had made the first reconnaissance 



"Tel Msg, Urbana Force to CG, 32d Div, Ser 
2422, 7 Dec 42. 

" 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 0640, 7 Dec 42; 1334, 9 
Dec 42. Mitchell distinguished himself further on 
9 December by bringing in a prisoner for question- 
ing. He was later awarded the Distinguished Serv- 
ice Cross. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 
3, 6 Jan 43. 



250 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



of the trail to Jaure, immediately replaced 
him as battalion commander. 50 

The attack made no progress whatever. 
At 1430 Company F was committed in sup- 
port of Company E and Company G, and 
the remaining platoon under Lieutenant 
Odell was ordered to Bottcher's Corner. 
The line still did not move forward, and the 
only success of the day — a very modest 
one — was registered by Odell's platoon. 51 

Odell's orders had been to move onto the 
fire-swept beach and clear out two suspected 
enemy outposts : one northwest of Bottcher's 
Corner; the other closer to the village. The 
first outpost gave no trouble — the enemy- 
troops in it were either dead or dying. The 
second was a different matter. Odell's 
platoon, down to a dozen men, began clos- 
ing in on the objective, when it found itself 
faced with about fifteen Japanese in a 
hastily dug trench. As the platoon edged 
forward, one of the Japanese called out in 
English that he and his fellows would sur- 
render if the Americans came over to them 
first. The men (as the battalion journal 
notes) treated the offer as a "gag." They 
stormed the trench and mopped up the 
Japanese, but heavy fire from the village 
ultimately drove them back to the Corner. 52 

The Japanese kept on trying. An attempt 
that evening by Captain Yasuda to send 
boats through to the village from his head- 
quarters in the mission was frustrated when 
Sergeant Bottcher detected the leading 
barge and set it on fire with his machine 
gun. The barge was pulled back to the mis- 
sion, a blazing hulk. After that rebuff the 

a 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 1335, 1405, 7 Dec 42. 
Fcrr the heroic example he set his men, Major 
Smith was later awarded the Distinguished Service 
Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 36, 
1 Jul 43. 

"2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 1430, 7 Dec 42. 
" 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl. 1405, 1805, 1910, 7 Dec 
42; Odell. Buna. 



Japanese made no further attempts to send 
boats to the village. 5 ' 1 

On 8 December the companies attacked 
again. Artillery, mortars, and machine guns 
opened up at 1400, and the troops started 
moving forward at 1415. Colonel Mc- 
Creary's mortars laid down fire as close as 
fifty yards to the front of the battalion's 
advance elements, but the Japanese line 
still held, and the attack was beaten off once 
again. 

The day was marked by a futile attempt 
to burn out a main Japanese bunker posi- 
tion on the southern edge of the village 
which had resisted capture for several days. 
The bunker was on the corner of a kunai 
flat, with dense jungle and swamp to the 
rear. It could neither be taken by frontal 
assault nor flanked. Two primitive flame 
throwers had reached the front that day, 
and one of them was immediately pressed 
into use. Covered by the fire of twenty men, 
the operator managed to get within thirty 
feet of the enemy without being detected. 
Then he stepped into the open and turned 
on his machine. All that came out of it was 
a ten or fifteen-foot dribble of flame which 
set the grass on fire and did not even come 
near the Japanese position. The operator, 
two of the men covering him, as well as the 
chemical officer in charge, were killed. The 
operation, as reported to Port Moresby that 
night, had been a complete "fizzle." 54 

The same evening Captain Yasuda made 
his last diversion in favor of the beleaguered 
troops in the village. While the Japanese 
in the village counterattacked on the left 
with about forty men, a second force of be- 
tween seventy-five and a hundred men 



53 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 1910, 7 Dec 42 ; 32d Div 
Sitrep, No. 89, 8 Dec 42 ; F, Tillman Durdin, The 
New York Times, 1 1 Dec 42. 

"32d Div Sitrep, No. 91, 9 Dec 42; 32d Div 
Chem Sec AAR, Papuan Campaign. 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



251 



moved from the mission by way of the is- 
land and hit the right flank of the 2d Bat- 
talion, 126th Infantry. The force from the 
mission advanced to the attack screaming 
and yelling, but the battalion's mortars and 
machine guns beat it off in short order. 
"Our heavy weapons quieted them down 
rather fast," was the way the battalion jour- 
nal described the action.'' 5 

Colonel McCreary continued his "ham- 
mer blows" against the village next day, but 
the Japanese still held their positions. During 
the afternoon, 1st Lt. James G. Downer, 
now commanding Company E, led a patrol 
against the same bunker position that the 
flame throwers had failed to reduce the day 
before. Covered by fire from the rest of the 
patrol, Downer moved out against the enemy 
positions alone but was killed by a hidden 
sniper just before reaching it. Downer's body 
was recovered and the fight for the bunker 
went on. Enemy fire slackened by evening 
and the bunker finally fell after costing the 
attackers heavy casualties and several days 
of effort. 56 

By this time the 2d Battalion, 1 26th In- 
fantry, had launched twelve futile attacks 
on the village. Its companies had become so 
understrength that they could do little more 
than hold their positions. Companies E and 
F each had less than fifty effectives left, and 
the whole battalion totaled about 250 men. 
Its relief had long been overdue, and the 
task of delivering the final attack on the 
village went therefore to the fresh 3d Bat- 
talion, 127th Infantry, which together with 
regimental headquarters had completed its 



55 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 2045, 8 Dec 42; G-3 
Opns Rpt, No. 245, 8 Dec 42. 

56 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 0950, 8 Dec 42, 1400, 
9 Dec 42; 32d Div Sitreps, Nos. 91, 92, 9 Dec. 42. 
Downer was posthumously awarded the Distin- 
guished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ 
SWPA GO No. 7, 15 Jan 43. 



movement to the forward area by air on 9 
December. 

Colonel Grose, as he had been promised 
earlier, took over command of the regiment 
the same day, and Lt. Col. Edwin J. 
Schmidt, the regimental commander, be- 
came his executive officer. On 1 1 December, 
Companies I and K, 127th Infantry, re- 
lieved Companies E and G, 126th Infantry. 
Company I took up a position at Bottcher's 
Corner between the village and the mission, 
and the 2d Battalion, 1 26th Infantry, moved 
into a reserve area along the supply trail. 57 

Companies I and K began probing the 
Japanese line at once. They made small 
gains on the 12th and consolidated them. 
On the 13th the village was subjected to 
heavy fire from the 25-pounders at Ango, 
and a heavy mortar concentration was laid 
down in preparation for a final assault the 
next day. The Japanese — by that time down 
to about 100 men — apparently had a pre- 
monition of what was coming. They evacu- 
ated the village that night and made for 
Giruwa. Most of them appear to have 
gotten through. 58 

Early the next morning, 14 December, a 

"2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1345, 8 Dec 42; 2d Bn, 
126th Inf, Jnl, 0908, 1305, 11 Dec 42; 127th Inf 
Tact Hist, Papuan Campaign, 9, 10, 11 Dec 42. 
Rpt, CG Buna Force, p. 24. On 10 December, just 
as the 2d Battalion was about to be relieved, Pfc. 
Walter A. Bajdek, of Battalion Headquarters Com- 
pany, made a dash under heavy enemy fire to re- 
establish communication with an advanced observa- 
tion post overlooking the enemy positions. Bajdek 
was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. 
The citation is in Hq USAFFE, GO No. 32, 15 
Jun 43. 

'"Entry, M Sgt A. K. Ushiro, 22 Jan 43, in 32d 
Div G-2 Interrogations and Translations File. On 
the 13th, while the Japanese were still holding, Sgt. 
Samuel G. Winzenreid of Company I, 127th In- 
fantry, acting on his own initiative, single-handedly 
reduced a strongly held enemy bunker with hand 
grenades. Winzenreid was later awarded the Dis- 
tinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq 
USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43. 



252 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



thorough preparation by 25-pounders and 
mortars was put down on the village. Leav- 
ing a small holding force at the corner, 
Company K moved forward against the 
village at 0700. Company I was in support 
on Company K's left flank, and one of its 
platoons covered Company K's left rear. 
The advance continued steadily and cau- 
tiously. There was no opposition. By 1000 
the entire area was overrun. Moving slowly 
and warily because they feared a trap, the 
troops soon discovered that none existed. 
They found no Japanese anywhere in the 
village. After all the bitter fighting that had 
raged on the outskirts, the village had fallen 
without the firing of a single enemy shot. 59 

The village was a mass of wreckage. Its 
few huts had been blown to bits ; the coconut 
palms in the area were splintered and 
broken by shellfire; and there were craters 
and shell holes everywhere. The bunkers still 
stood, despite evidence of numerous direct 
hits registered upon them by the artillery. 
The Japanese had left little equipment and 
food behind: a few guns, some discarded 
clothing, a supply of canned goods, and a 
store of medical supplies. 60 

Thus anticlimactically had Urbana Force 
taken its first objective. The Coconut Grove 
remained as the only position on the left 
bank of Entrance Creek still in Japanese 
hands. This labyrinth of trenches and 
bunkers was next. 

The Reduction of the Coconut Grove 

Lt. Col. Herbert A. Smith, commanding 
officer of the 2d Battalion, 1 28th Infantry, 

59 127th Inf Tact Hist, Papuan Campaign, 12, 13, 
14 Dec 42. 

M Msg, Col Tomlinson to Col Howe, Scr 3096, 14 
Dec 42, 127th Inf CT Tact Hist, Papuan Cam- 
paign, 14 Dec 42; Durdin, The New York Times, 
1 7 Dec 42. 



had been told by General Byers a few days 
before that he would be called upon to take 
the Coconut Grove when Buna Village fell. 
Smith and his executive officer, Maj. Roy F. 
Zinser, lost no time therefore in preparing a 
plan for its reduction. Since the jungle front- 
ing the grove was split by an open grassy 
area, the plan called for one company of 
the battalion to attack on the right under 
Smith and a second company to attack on 
the left under Zinser, whose unit was to 
make the main effort. 

About 1300 on 15 December General 
Byers came to Colonel Smith's CP, west 
of the grove, and told him he was to attack 
at once. Smith's battalion numbered about 
350 men at the time, but they were scattered 
along a 1,750-yard front all the way from 
the apex of the Triangle and along the left 
bank of Entrance Creek to a point just be- 
low Musita Island. Not counting a platoon 
of heavy machine guns from Company H 
which was to play a supporting role, Smith 
had less than 100 men immediately avail- 
able for the attack: about 40 men from 
Company E; about 20 men from a Com- 
pany F platoon; 15 or 20 men from Bat- 
talion Headquarters Company; and about 
15 men from the Regimental Cannon Com- 
pany who happened to be in the immediate 
area. Smith requested more troops, and 
specifically asked for the rest of Company 
F, which was then in the Siwori Village area 
protecting the left flank. General Byers 
found it impossible to give Smith the men 
he asked for, and the attack was ordered to 
begin at 1500 with those he had available. 

Smith divided his available strength in 
half. He gave Zinser the platoon of Com- 
pany F, most of the troops from Battalion 
Headquarters Company, and a few men 
from the Cannon Company detachment. 
He himself took Company E and a few men 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



253 



from each of the other units. The two forces 
moved out quickly to their respective points 
of departure. At 1510, with the troops in 
position and ready to go, Colonel Mc- 
Creary's mortars opened up on the grove. C1 

The mortar preparation, about 100 
rounds in all, hit the target area but had 
little effect. As one who was there recalls, 
it merely "blew a little dirt from the Japa- 
nese emplacements." At 1520 the mortars 
ceased firing, and the troops moved out on 
right and left with the help of fire from the 
platoon of Company H. 03 

The Japanese had the approaches to the 
grove covered and laid down heavy fire on 
the attackers. Progress was slow, but Colo- 
nel Smith's forces were pressed up tight 
against their objective by nightfall. A heavy 
rain fell during the night, drenching the 
troops and filling their foxholes with water. 03 

Zinser's force took the initiative next 
morning. Running into a particularly 
troublesome bunker, it pressed into use a 
flame thrower of the same type that had 
worked so badly the week before in front 
of Buna Village. The result was the same : 
the flame thrower "fizzed out and Japanese 
shot it up." ct 

After reducing this position with grenades 
and small arms fire, the troops on the left 
discovered a very large bunker which com- 
manded the American approaches to the 
grove. Since the enemy strongpoint was 
accessible to both of them, the two forces 
began converging on it from right and left, 
clearing out intermediate obstacles as they 

" l 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1510, 15 Dec 42; Ltr, 
Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 23 Mar 50; Ltr, 
Gen Byers to Lt Co] Roy F. Zinser, 20 Feb 51 ■ Ltr, 
Col Zinser to Gen Byers, 1 Mar 51. Copies of last 
two in OCMH files. 

""Ltr, Col Zinser to Gen Byers, 1 Mar 51. 

03 Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to author, 23 Mar 
50; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 26. 

M Ltr, Col Zinser to Gen Byers, 1 Mar 51. 



went. In this fighting Major Zinser demon- 
strated conspicuous leadership, but it fell to 
two men of Company E on the right — Cpl. 
Daniel F. Rini and Pvt. Bernardino Y. 
Estrada — to clear out the main position. 
Rini and Estrada, members of the same 
squad, had been in the forefront of the 
company's advance. The climax came when 
Rini, covered by Estrada's BAR, got close 
enough to the main bunker to jump on top 
and knock it out. 

That morning Colonel Smith had been 
watching Rini and Estrada from a position 
thirty or forty yards behind them, occa- 
sionally helping them with fire. Just as Rini 
reached the bunker, Smith was called to 
the phone tied to a tree about twenty-five 
yards to the rear to talk to Colonel Tomlin- 
son. He had scarcely lifted the receiver when 
he heard shouting from the direction of the 
main bunker. 

I sensed [he recalls] that this was probably 
the break we were looking for, so I told 
Colonel Tomlinson that I must get forward 
and see what was happening. I arrived just in 
time to see Corporal Rini on top of the big 
bunker and the rest of the squad closing in 
on it. Later I learned that Rini, after work- 
ing up as close as he could, had suddenly 
made a dash, jumped on top of the bunker, 
and leaning over had pushed hand grenades 
through the firing slits. <io 

Realizing that he would have to move fast 
to take full advantage of this turn in the 
fighting, Colonel Smith ordered all-out at- 
tacks on the remaining enemy positions. 
Charging at the head of a squad, Smith 
cleared out a bunker in the center, and 
Capt. Joseph M. Stehling of Company E 
did the same in an attack on his right. The 
bunkers fell in quick succession, but Cor- 
poral Rini and Private Estrada were both 

"Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith to Gen Ward, 20 
Mar 51. 



254 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



killed in the mop-up which their valor had 
made possible. Rini was shot by a wounded 
Japanese to whom he was trying to admin- 
ister first aid, and Estrada fell not long after 
while helping to clear the last enemy posi- 
tion in the grove. 60 

The fighting was over by noon. Thirty- 
seven Japanese were buried by the following 
day, and more were found and buried sub- 
sequently. The cost to the 2d Battalion, 
1 28th Infantry, was four killed and thirteen 
wounded. 

Booty included 2,000 pounds of rice and 
oatmeal, a number of kegs of malt and bar- 
ley, a quantity of small arms, several light 
machine guns, and a hut full of ammuni- 
tion. One wounded Japanese sergeant was 
taken prisoner. 67 

As soon as the grove was captured, Col- 
onel Smith sent patrols over a footbridge 
built by the Japanese across Entrance Creek 
and the Ango-Buna track bridge. Though 
the latter span lacked flooring, its piling and 
stringers were still intact. The patrols met 
no opposition, and two heavy machine guns 
were immediately emplaced covering the 
approaches to the bridges. Late in the after- 
noon, while the engineers were repairing the 
track bridge, an enemy attempt to mass 
troops in the Government Gardens, pre- 
sumably for an attack on the newly won 
beachhead east of Entrance Creek, was frus- 

K Ibid; 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 0820, 1140, 1200, 
1410, 16 Dec 42; 32d Div Sitrep, No. 106, 16 Dec 
42. Zinser, Rini, and Estrada were later awarded 
the Distinguished Service Cross; Smith and Stehl- 
ing, the Silver Star. Zinser's citation is in Hq 
USAFFE GO No. 2, 1 1 Jan 44 : Rini's and Estrada's 
posthumous awards are cited in GHQ SWPA GO 
No. 9, 19 Jan 43. The Silver Star citations are in 
Hq 32d Div GO No. 54, 14 Jan 43, and in GO 
No. 28, 6 Apr 43, of the same headquarters. 

61 Tel Msg, Col Howe to Col Tomlinson, Ser 
3488, 17 Dec 42; 32d Div Sitreps, No. 106, 16 Dec 
42, No. 108, 17 Dec 42; 127th Inf CT Tact Hist, 
Papuan Campaign, 16 Dec 42. 



trated by fire from the heavy machine guns 
both east and west of the creek. 68 

General Eichelberger wrote General Suth- 
erland that night that he was "delighted" 
w r ith the way Colonel Smith's battalion had 
performed in the day's fighting. The battal- 
ion was now "high" in his favor, Colonel 
Smith had "developed into quite a fighter," 
and the men had "a high morale." "As a 
matter of fact," he added, "the boys are 
coming to life all along the line." 69 

The Scene Brightens 

The Situation: Mid-December 

General Eichelberger was right. Despite 
considerable losses, widespread sickness, and 
severe physical discomforts, the troops were 
giving an increasingly good account of them- 
selves. By 1 1 December, after having been 
been in action for only twenty-one days, the 
two task forces east of the Girua River had 
lost 667 killed, wounded, and missing, and 
1,260 evacuated sick. 70 Troop morale had 
touched bottom during the first week in De- 
cember and had stayed there for a few days 
after. By mid-month, however, a distinct 
improvement had become manifest. A re- 
port on morale in the 3d Battalion, 128th 
Infantry, submitted to Colonel Martin on 
1 3 December, noted that the men were tired 
and feverish, that their physical co-ordina- 
tion was poor, that they complained of the 



<8 32d Div Sitrep, No. 106, 16 Dec 42; Msg, 
NGF to 32d Div, Ser 3587, 17 Dec 42; Ltr, Col 
Herbert A. Smith to author, 23 Mar 50: Ltr, Col 
Zinser to Gen Byers, 1 Mar 51. 

"* Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 16 
Dec 42. 

32d Div Strength Rpt to Col Joseph S. Bradley, 
CofS, 32d Div, Ser 2932, 1 1 Dec 42, in 32d Div G-3 
Jnl. The detailed figures are : KIA, 113; WIA, 490; 
MIA, 64. Warren Force sustained 422 of these cas- 
ualties ; Urbana Force, 245. 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



255 



food and of the difficulty of getting rest at 
night. The same report nevertheless com- 
mented that their "spirits" had "livened-up" 
considerably during the preceding few 
days. 71 

There were good reasons for the upswing 
in morale. The fact that the troops had by 
this time learned their business had a great 
deal to do with it. More food and rest, the 
arrival of the 127th Infantry, the victories 
on the Urbana front, the receipt of mail for 
the first time since the campaign began, and 
the knowledge that tanks and fresh Aus- 
tralian troops were coming had boosted 
morale still further. 

The supply situation was improving. 
More luggers were becoming available, and 
General Johns of the Combined Operational 
Service Command (COSC) had already de- 
cided to send large freighters into Oro Bay. 
The airlift was beginning to bring in truly 
impressive tonnages. On 14 December, for 
example, the air force in seventy-four in- 
dividual flights between Port Moresby and 
the airfields at Dobodura and Popondetta 
brought in 178 tons of high-priority ma- 
teriel. This was a maximum effort that was 
never equaled during the rest of the cam- 
paign, but it indicated what the air force 
could do when it extended itself and the 
weather was favorable. 72 

The rapidly growing airlift, the opening 
of a fourth field at Dobodura, regular 
nightly deliveries by the luggers, and the 
completion by the engineers of additional 
jeep trails to the front had done more than 
merely make good the supply shortages that 
had so long afflicted the 32d Division. They 



"3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1100, 13 Dec 42. 

,J 3 2d Div G-4 Sec, Record of Air Shipments, 
Rear Echelon, Port Moresby, Papuan Campaign; 
Interv with Col Moffatt, 30 Oct 49. 



had made it possible for the first time to 
begin stockpiling food and ammunition for 
a sustained offensive effort.™ 

There were other improvements. The 
sound-power telephone, pressed into use at 
this time for fire control purposes, was prov- 
ing itself highly efficient within a two-mile 
range, and the introduction of the new 4- 
inch-to- 1 -mile Buna Map, in place of the 
improvised Buna Target Plan No. 24, was 
already paying the troops dividends. With 
a more accurate base map, improved com- 
munications with the forward observers, 
and observation from the air, the artil- 
lery was beginning to give an even better 
account of itself. From time to time, it was 
executing fire missions on bunkers adjacent 
to the bridge between the strips, and on 
those flanking the dispersal bays off the 
northeastern end of the New Strip. It was 
laying down harassing fire on the enemy 
front and rear. Direct hits were chipping 
away at the bunkers, but except in the case 
of the 105-mm. howitzer, using shells with 
delayed fuses, artillery had little effect on 
the enemy bunker positions. 74 

On the more strongly defended Warren 
front what was needed, in addition to more 
effective artillery support, was special equip- 
ment for the reduction of bunkers. Such 
equipment — routine later on — was simply 



1 28th Inf Jnl, 0230, 0450, 1232, 8 Dec 42; 
0500, 9 Dec 42 ; 0825, 1838, 1 925, 1 1 Dec 42 ; Msg, 
Gen Byers to NGF, Ser 2710, 10 Dec 42; Msg, Gen 
Eichelberger to Gen Kenney, Ser 3039, 13 Dec 42; 
32d Div G-4 Sec, Record of Air Shipments, Rear 
Echelon, Port Moresby, Papuan Campaign. 

"Msg, NGF to 32d Div, Ser 2775, 10 Dec 42; 
Msg NGF to Adv NGF, Ser 3630, 18 Dec 42; 
128th Inf Jnl, Ser 24, 11 Dec 42; Ser 13, 12 Dec 
42; Ltr, Col Horace Harding to Lt Col James F. 
Collins, 4 Jan 43, in I Corps Correspondence File; 
Memo, Col Irwin, 6th Aust Div, for Brig Wootten, 
4 Jan 43, sub: Japanese Strongpoints — Expedients 
in Assisting Attack, copy in OCMH files. 



256 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



not to be had at Buna. It was expected that 
the tanks, when they finally reached the 
front, would make up for these deficiencies. 

The Arrival of the Australians 

Early on 7 December General Herring 
and his chief of staff, Brig. R. N. L. Hop- 
kins, visited General Eichelberger's head- 
quarters at Henahamburi to make arrange- 
ments for the reception of the Australian 
troops and tanks that General Eichelberger 
had been promised on 3 December. General 
Blarney had chosen Brig. George F. Woot- 
ten of the 18th Brigade (then still at Milne 
Bay) to command the incoming Australian 
force. General Eichelberger at once offered 
to put Wootten in command of Warren 
Force with Colonel Martin as second-in- 
command — an offer which General Herring 
promptly accepted. 75 

General Blarney had discussed the mat- 
ter with General MacArthur the day before. 
The two commanders had agreed that the 
operation would require at least a battalion 
of troops from Milne Bay and a suitable 
number of tanks from Port Moresby. Since 
General Blarney did not have enough small 
ships to move the battalion, he asked Gen- 
eral MacArthur to prevail upon the Navy 
(which up to that time had been unwilling 
to send its ships into the waters around 
Buna) to provide corvettes or destroyers to 
get the troops forward. On 8 December — 
the same day that Brigadier Wootten was 
ordered to report to General Blarney at Port 
Moresby- — the Navy agreed to provide three 
corvettes for the purpose, and New Guinea 



,5 Rpt, CG Buna Force, pp. 23, 27, 28; Interv 
with Gen Eichelberger, 6 Feb 50; Eichelberger, 
Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 44. 



Force issued its first orders relating to the 
movement the following day. 78 

The orders provided that one troop 
(four tanks) of the 2/6 Australian Armored 
Regiment at Port Moresby, and the 2/9 
Australian Infantry Battalion at Milne Bay, 
were to be sent to Buna. The tanks were to 
go forward in the Dutch ship Karsik, a 
3,300-ton, four-hatch freighter of the 
K. P. M. line; the Australian corvettes 
Colac, Ballarat, and Broome were to carry 
the troops. The Karsik was to pick up sup- 
plies and ammunition at Milne Bay before 
moving on to Oro Bay where it was to be 
unloaded on the night of 11-12 December. 
The three corvettes would touch at Milne 
Bay on the 12th. After taking on brigade 
headquarters and the 2/9 Battalion, they 
would make a speedy run northward and 
rendezvous the same night off Soena Plan- 
tation just below Cape Sudest with landing 
craft from Porlock Harbor which were to 
ferry the troops and their equipment 
ashore. 77 

Brigadier Wootten reported to General 
Blarney on 10 December and received his 
instructions. Blarney had decided by that 
time to send another troop of tanks and 
another infantry battalion to Buna. Of 
Brigadier Wootten's two remaining bat- 
talions, the 2/ 10th was at Wanigela and 
Porlock Harbor, and the 2/ 12th was at 
Goodenough Island. Blarney therefore in- 
tended to draw the additional battalion 
from the 7 th Brigade, which was still at 



" Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen MacArthur, 8 Dec 42, 
in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; NGF OI No. 49, 9 Dec 
42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere 
and Giropa Point. 

"NGF OI No. 49, 9 Dec 42; Interv with Col 
Moffatt, 2 Mar 50; The Koninklijke Pakleuaart 
Maatschapij (K.P.M. Line) and the War in the 
Southwest Pacific Area. 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



257 



Milne Bay. However, at Brigadier Woot- 
ten's request, the 2/10 Battalion, the 18th 
Brigade unit at Wanigela and Porlock Har- 
bor, was substituted. This change in plan 
made it necessary to move the battalion of 
the 7th Brigade to Wanigela and Porlock 
Harbor before the 2/10 Battalion could be 
sent forward to Buna. The change-over be- 
gan immediately in order to permit the 
2/10 Battalion to reach Buna by the night 
of 17-18 December. 78 

Brigadier Wootten flew to Popondetta at 
dawn the next morning, 1 1 December. 
After conferring with General Herring and 
Brigadier Hopkins, he and Hopkins flew to 
Dobodura where they met General Eichel- 
berger. Wootten spent the afternoon recon- 
noitering the Warren front, and that night, 
while he slept at General Eichelberger's 
headquarters, the Karsik came into Oro 
Bay. 

The Karsik had in its hold four light 
American M3 tanks (General Stuarts) be- 
longing to the 2/6 Australian Armored 
Regiment. It carried also a seven-day level 
of supply for the 2/9 Battalion. Maj. Car- 
roll K. Moffatt, an American infantry offi- 
cer serving with the COSC, supervised the 
unloading. He had just reached the area 
from Milne Bay with six Higgins boats 
(LCVP's) and two Australian barges, the 
first Allied landing craft to reach the com- 
bat zone. The actual unloading was done 
by troops of the 287th U. S. Port Battalion 
who had come in on the Karsik. They did 
the job quickly, and, the ship got away 
safely before daylight. The tanks were trans- 

" NGF OI No. 51, 11 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 
18th Inf Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa 
Point. Since Wanigela and Porlock Harbor were 
only a short distance from Buna, the transfer of the 
2/10th to the front by corvette could be made 
quickly once it had been relieved by the battalion 
of the 7th Brigade. 



ferred to specially constructed barges 
(which had reached the area a few days 
before), towed to shore, unloaded, and 
hidden in the jungle. They were reloaded 
on the barges the next night and then towed 
by luggers to Boreo. There they were 
landed, run into the jungle, and hidden at 
a tank lying-up point a few hundred yards 
north of the village. 

Brigade headquarters, the 2/9 Battalion, 
and the commanding officer of the 2/10 
Battalion (who had flown in from Wanigela 
the night before ) left in the Colac, Broome, 
and Ballarat early on 12 December. Travel- 
ing at high speed, the ships reached the 
rendezous point off Cape Sudest late that 
night to find Major Moffatt and the eight 
landing craft waiting for them. 

Unloading began at once, but scarcely 
had the first seventy-five men, including the 
two battalion commanders, stepped into the 
two leading LCVP's when the captain of 
the Ballarat, the senior officer in charge of 
the corvettes, learned that a "large" Japa- 
nese naval force, was moving on Buna from 
Rabaul. He immediately pulled the cor- 
vettes back to Porlock Harbor with the rest 
of the troops still aboard. 70 

The two loaded landing craft let the 
troops off at Boreo, and all eight craft made 
for the Oro Bay area, their hiding place 
during the day. Just before they reached it, 
they were bombed by patrolling Australian 
aircraft, which mistook them for Japa- 
nese — an understandable error since the 
pilots had not been told to look out for 
Allied landing craft, and the Allies had up 
to that time had no landing craft of any 

" Rpt on Opns 18th Inf Bde Gp at Cape Endaia- 
dere and Giropa Point; Interv with Col Moffatt, 30 
Oct 49. The enemy force was the one bearing Gen- 
eral Oda and the 1st Battalion, 170th Infantry, 
which was to reach the mouth of the Mambare the 
following morning. 



258 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 





THREE GENERALS CONVALESCING in an Australian hospital, December 1942. 
Left to right, Generals MacNider, Waldron, and Byers. 



kind in the area. One LCVP was sunk, and 
another had to be beached, a total loss. 
Nine crew members were wounded, and 
one died before he could reach a hospital. 80 
The corvettes returned the following 
night. Instead of rendezvousing with the 



80 Rpt on Opns 18th Inf Bde Gp at Cape Endaia- 
dere and Giropa Point; Interv with Col Moffatt, 30 
Oct 49; Kenney, General Kenney Reports, pp. 165, 
166. General Kenney' s story of the bombing is in- 
accurate in that he says that no one was hurt, and 
fails to mention that, in addition to the one craft 
sunk, a second was rendered useless and had to be 
abandoned. The figures given arc from records kept 
by Colonel Moffatt, who was in charge of the land- 
ing craft. 



landing craft off Cape Sudest as planned, 
the corvettes landed the troops at Oro Bay, 
a full day's march away. The Japanese na- 
val force was still in the area and unac- 
counted for, and the corvettes had no inten- 
tion of running into it, especially with troops 
aboard. 

The Australian troops reached Hariko 
the following night. The next morning — 15 
December — they moved up to their perma- 
nent bivouac area about a mile north of 
Boreo and a quarter -mile inland. That night 
the Karsik came in again to Oro Bay, with 
100 tons of cargo and a second troop of 
tanks. As in the case of the first tank move- 



BUNA: THE SECOND TWO WEEKS 



259 



ment, the four tanks were put aboard 
barges, towed to Boreo, unloaded, and 
moved up the beach to the tank park. With 
the first four tanks they were organized into 
a composite unit: X Squadron of the 2/6 
Armored Regiment. 81 

On 16 December Advance New Guinea 
Force moved to Dobodura from Popon- 
detta. General Byers was wounded while in 
the front lines during the attack on the 
Coconut Grove, and General Eichelberger, 
as the only U.S. general officer present, took 
command of the American forces at the 
front. 82 The next day, 17 December, after 
consulting with General Eichelberger, Brig- 
adier Wootten took over command of the 
Warren front, and Buna Force set 18 De- 
cember as D Day. 83 



" Rpt of Opns 18th Inf Bde Gp at Cape Endaia- 
dere and Giropa Point; Interv with Gen Eichel- 
berger, 6 Feb 50 ; Interv with Col Moffatt, 30 Oct 
49; Hist Port Det E, COSC, Buna. 

82 Rpt, CG Buna Force, p. 27; Eichelberger, Our 
Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 41. Byers, who was 
wounded immediately after his troops jumped off, 
was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross nine 
days later. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 
63, 24 Dec 42. 



General MacArthur had been urging 
General Eichelberger to speed his prepara- 
tions, 84 and Eichelberger had done his best 
to comply. The attack General MacArthur 
had asked for was now ready. Warren Force 
was to move out on the 1 8th with tanks ; its 
successive objectives were Duropa Planta- 
tion and Cape Endaiadere (including a 
bridgehead across the mouth of Simemi 
Greek), the New Strip, and the Old Strip. 
Urbana Force was to attack on the 1 9th — 
D plus 1 . It was to storm the Triangle, cut 
through to the coast, and seize the track 
junction between Buna Mission and Giropa 
Point, thereby isolating the one from the 
other, and exposing both to attack on their 
inward flanks. 85 Captain Yasuda and Colo- 
nel Yamamoto were now each faced with a 
double envelopment, and both were about 
to be caught in a pincers from which there 
was no escape. 

83 Tel Msg, Brig Hopkins to 32d Div, Ser 3227, 
15 Dec 42; Tel Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Ser 3426, 
17 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Inf Bde Gp at Cape 
Endaiadere and Giropa Point. 

8J Ltr, Gen MacArthur to Gen Eichelberger, 1 3 
Dec 42, copy in OCMH files. 

85 NGF OI No. 53, 16 Dec 42; Buna Force FO 
No. 3, 17 Dec 42; 18th Aust Bde Gp Opns Orders 
No. 1, 17 Dec 42. 



CHAPTER XIV 



Warren Force Takes the Initiative 



On 18 December, the day appointed for 
the tank-infantry attack in the Duropa Plan- 
tation-New Strip area, New Guinea Force 
ordered the construction of a road from 
Oro Bay to the airfields at Dobodura. Engi- 
neer troops to build the road and port de- 
tachment troops to operate the port left 
Gili Gili for Oro Bay the same day in the 
K. P. M. ship Japara. 1 Such a road, in con- 
junction with the port, would make it pos- 
sible to base bomber and fighter aircraft 
north of the Owen Stanley Range for the 
first time. It would serve to seal off Port 
Moresby from attack and help write the 
doom of the Japanese garrisons in the Huon 
Peninsula. The establishment of the port 
and the construction of the road — prerequi- 
sites to the enjoyment by the Southwest 
Pacific Area of the fruits of victory at 
Buna — were, in short, being undertaken 
even as the victory was being won. With 
tanks finally on hand for the reduction of 
the Japanese positions in the Duropa Plan- 
tation and behind the New Strip, that vic- 
tory could not be far off. 

The Advance to Simemi Creek. 



Preparing the Tank Attack 

As General Harding had concluded in 
November when he first asked for tanks, the 

1 NGF OI No. 54, 18 Dec 42; Interv with Col 
Moffatt, 30 Oct 49; Hist Port Det E, COSC, Buna, 
abstract in OCMH files. 



Australian tank men found the plantation 
area and the New Strip entirely suitable for 
tank action. The plan of attack on the 
Warren front therefore called for the main 
body of the tank squadron, closely followed 
by two companies of the 2/9 Battalion, to 
attack in the Duropa Plantation, straight up 
the coast to Cape Endaiadere. The 3d Bat- 
talion, 128th Infantry, was to mop up im- 
mediately to the rear. After taking the cape, 
the attackers would then wheel west to the 
line of Simemi Creek and emerge on the 
enemy's rear by securing a bridgehead 
across the creek near its mouth. The New 
Strip would be attacked simultaneously 
from south and east. The 1st Battalion, 
126th Infantry, was to move on the bridge 
between the strips from its position immedi- 
ately to the south of it. Preceded by the rest 
of the tanks and supported by the 1st Bat- 
talion, 128th Infantry, another company 
from the 2/9 Battalion would meanwhile 
attack at the eastern end of the strip, cut 
through the dispersal bays, and advance on 
the bridge between the strips via the 



northern edge of the New Strip. [Map 13) 



A heavy artillery and mortar preparation 
was to precede the attack. Augmenting the 
105-mm. howitzer south of Ango, the 25- 
pounders on either flank, and the two 3.7- 
inch mountain guns just below the western 
end of the New Strip, at least one 25- 
pounder was to be moved up close to the dis- 
persal bays at its eastern end in order to 



WARREN FORGE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 



261 



bring the bunkers in that area under direct 
fire. The 2/10 Battalion (which was ex- 
pected to arrive on the night of D Day ) was 
to take over the 2/9 Battalion's bivouac area 
and be committed to action upon order from 
Brigadier Wootten. 2 

At 1800 on the night of the 1 7th, X 
Squadron — seven tanks, less one tank in re- 
serve — began moving up to the line of de- 
parture. The sound of aircraft was to have 
covered the rumble of the tanks as they 
moved up to the starting line, but the planes 
did not materialize. Instead, the 1st and 3d 
Battalions, 128th Infantry, laid down a 
mortar barrage to drown out the roar of the 
motors and the clank of the treads. The 
expedient was successful. Even though the 
Japanese had patrols very close to the area 
in which the tanks were arriving, no alarm 
was aroused. 3 

The American troops were then pressed 
up tight against the Japanese line, in most 
cases less than fifty yards from the nearest 
enemy bunker. They were to withdraw 
about 300 yards to the rear, just behind the 
Australian line of departure that was marked 
that night with white tape. Thus the attack- 
ing Australians and supporting American 
troops would not be endangered by the 



2 Buna Force, Instructions to Warren Force in 
Projected Opns, 15 Dec 42, Ser 3226, in 32d Div 
G-3 Jnl; NGF OI No. 53, 16 Dec 42: 18th Bde 
Gp OI No. 1, 17 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 
Ser 685, 1 7 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 13, 
14, 17 Dec 42; 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1300, 17 
Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape En- 
daiadere and Giropa Point. 

3 Tel Msg, Gen Eichclberger to Adv NGF, Ser 
3451, 17 Dec 42, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; 1st Bn, 
128th Inf, Jnl, 1554, 1853, 17 Dec 42; 3d Bn, 
128th Inf, Jnl, 1554, 1853, 17 Dec 42; 128th Inf 
Jnl, 1815, 1840, 1900, 2103, 17 Dec 42; Rpt on 
Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa 
Point. 



close-in artillery and mortar preparation, 
and both the infantry and the tanks would 
gain maneuver space in the attack. 4 

The First Day 

The attack went off as planned. Early the 
following morning between 0600 and 0645 
the 1st and 3d Battalions, 128th Infantry, 
withdrew quietly 300 yards to their ap- 
pointed positions. At 0650 Allied air began 
bombing and strafing, and every artillery 
piece and mortar on the front opened up on 
the enemy positions. During this ten-minute 
preparation the 2/9 Battalion under its com- 
mander, Lt. Col. Clement J. Cummings, 
passed through Colonel MacNab's and 
Major Clarkson's troops and arrived at the 
taped-out line of departure just forward of 
the Americans. At 0700 the artillery and 
mortar barrage ceased, the planes stopped 
bombing, and the Australians with tanks in 
the lead moved out. 

Three companies of the 2/9th — A, D, and 
C — were committed to the attack; the re- 
maining company — Company B — was left 
in reserve. Companies A and D, and five 
tanks pushed straight north up the coast, on 
a two-company front. After jumping off with 
the other companies, Company C spear- 
headed by two tanks wheeled northwestward 
and attacked the enemy bunkers in the area 
off the eastern end of the New Strip. As soon 
as the Australians had left the line of depar- 
ture, Colonel MacNab's and Major Clark- 
son's troops began moving forward north 
and west in support of the attacking Aus- 
tralians. Major Beaver meanwhile kept up 
a steady pressure on the bridge area at the 
other end of the strip, supported by fire from 



4 Ltr, Gen Martin to Gen Ward, 6 Mar 51. 



262 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




MAP 13 



the 3.7-inch mountain guns of the O'Hare 
Troop. 5 

Even though the heavy artillery and mor- 
tar preparation failed to destroy the enemy 
bunkers, the coastal attack on Cape Endai- 

s Tel Msgs, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Sers 3529,3563, 
3609, 18 Dec 42, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; 1st Bn, 126th 
Inf, Jnl, Sers 685, 686, 17 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, Sers 11, 13, 14, 17 Dec 42, Sers 2, 4, 6, 
10, 16, 18 Dec 42; 32d Div Sitrcp, No. 110, 18 
Dec 42. 



adere was a brilliant success. Taking Colonel 
Yamamoto's 144th and 229th Infantry 
troops completely by surprise, the tanks and 
the fresh Australian troops advancing be- 
hind them made short work of the Japanese 
positions in the plantation which had so 
long held up the attack on the coastal flank. 

As Colonel MacNab, who was on the 
scene waiting to go in with his battalion, 
described it, 



WARREN FORCE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 



263 




The tanks really did that job. They ap- 
parently completely demoralized the Japs . . . 
[who] fought like cornered rats when they 
were forced into the open [as a result of] hav- 
ing their fires masked when the tanks broke 
through their final protective line. . . . There 
were few holes knocked in the bunkers except 
where the tanks stood off and blasted them at 
short range with their 37-mm, guns. 6 



' Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 25 Nov 49. 



The two Australian companies took 
heavy casualties as they overran the suc- 
cessive Japanese positions. Two tanks were 
lost — one to a Molotov cocktail, and the 
other when its motor failed as it skirted a 
burning enemy dump, but so well did the 
attack go that the Australians had reached 
the cape within the hour. Without delay 
they headed west and began moving on the 
next objective, Strip Point, with the three 



264 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



remaining tanks. About 500 yards west of 
Gape Endaiadere they encountered a new 
enemy line whose bunkers and blockhouses 
had escaped the artillery bombardment. 
Here they again met stiff resistance, They 
fought hard to reduce this new Japanese 
strongpoint but could advance no farther 
that day. 

Colonel MacNab's battalion had mean- 
while pushed forward. There were more 
Japanese left in the coastal area than ex- 
pected, and the opposition was relatively 
heavy. The battalion finished mopping up 
by evening and established an all-around 
defense perimeter in the plantation extend- 
ing from its former front line to a point just 
below Cape Endaiadere. 

The attack on the enemy positions off the 
eastern end of the New Strip had not gone 
as well as that on Cape Endaiadere. Com- 
pany C, 2/9 Battalion, and the two tanks 
were stopped in their tracks only a short 
distance from the line of departure. Reserves 
were called for. Company B, 2/9 Bat- 
talion — Colonel Cummings' reserve com- 
pany — was brought up, and the 1st Bat- 
talion, 128th Infantry, was ordered in on 
both flanks. Despite these reinforcements, 
the Japanese still held to their positions, and 
soon put one of the tanks temporarily out 
of action by damaging its vision slits with 
machine gun fire. 

At 1600 the three tanks from the north 
flank and the tank that had been in reserve 
were committed to the action. Again the two 
Australian companies attacked, supported 
as before by Major Clarkson's battalion. 
After two hours of bitter fighting, they 
finally overran the strongpoint. It was 
found to be made up of twenty pillboxes, 
several of them of concrete and steel con- 
struction. Pulling back just in time, the 
enemy troops less a small rear guard with- 



drew along the northern edge of the strip to 
bunkers near the bridge. Their position, as 
well as that of the engineer and antiaircraft 
troops whom they reinforced, was now ex- 
tremely precarious. The whole bridge area 
and the few still-unreduced bunkers south 
of the bridge had been under heavy fire 
during the day from Major Beaver's mor- 
tars, the mountain guns of the O'Hare 
Troop, and the 105-mm. howitzer south of 
Ango, which for the first time in the cam- 
paign had ammunition to spare. 7 

The 2/9 Battalion lost 160 men in 
the day's fighting — 49 killed and 111 
wounded — and the tank squadron lost two 
of its seven tanks, but the day's gains had 
been decisive. The enemy's line in the 
Duropa Plantation-New Strip area had 
been broken, and his defenses had been 
overcome in the area east of Simemi Creek. 

As the mopping up proceeded and the 
construction of the enemy bunkers in the 
area was examined, it became apparent that 
infantry, with the weapons and support that 
the 32d Division had, could probably never 
have reduced the enemy line alone. General 
Eichelberger put his finger squarely on the 
difficulty in a letter to General Sutherland. 
"I know General MacArthur will be glad 
to know," he wrote, "that we found con- 
crete pillboxes with steel doors, interlocked 
in such a way that it would have been 
almost impossible for [infantry] unassisted 
to get across." Two days later he made his 
meaning plainer when, in the course of 
praising Brigadier Wootten for doing a fine 

'Msgs, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Sers 3539, 3563, 
3566, 3579, 3591, 3601, 3609, 18 Dec 42, in 32d 
Div G-3 Jnl; 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 692, 693, 
697, 709, 712, 714, 18 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, 
Jnl, Sers 38, 48, 49, 73, 18 Dec 42; 3d Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, 0840, 0930, 1250, 18 Dec 42; 128th Inf, 
Jnl, Sers 24, 28, 41, 55, 57, 59, 85, 18 Dec 42; Rpt 
on Opns 18th Inf Bde at Cape Endaiadere and 
Giropa Point. 



WARREN FORCE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 



265 




GENERAL STUART LIGHT TANKS M3 manned by the 2/6 Australian Armored 
Regiment, December 1942. 



job, ne added, "I am glad he has the tanks 
to help him, I do not believe he or anyone 
else would have gone very far without 
them." 8 

The Push Westward 

On the evening of 1 8 December Brigadier 
Wootten was given permission to use the 
next day for regrouping his troops, and later 
the same night the 2/10 Battalion, less two 



companies, came in from Porlock Harbor 
by corvette. The incoming troops took over 
the bivouac area previously occupied by the 
2/9 Battalion, and went into brigade 
reserve. B 

The 19th was comparatively quiet. Two 
Australian 4.5-inch howitzers (the Stokes 
Troop), which had been flown in on the 
18th, went into action south of the O'Hare 
Troop below the bridge, and several con- 



"Ltrs, Gen Eic.helberger to Gen Sutherland, 18 
Dec 42, 20 Dec 42, copies in OGMH files. 



a Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 18 
Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape 
Endaiadere and Giropa Point. 



266 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



centrations were fired during the morning 
on newly located bunkers in the bridge 
area. 10 The two Australian companies that 
had been operating off the eastern end of 
the strip moved north to join the rest of the 
2/9 Battalion in front of Strip Point. Then, 
as Major Clarkson's troops moved forward 
along the northern edge of the strip to join 
Beaver's men in front of the bridge, the 3d 
Battalion, 128th Infantry, faced west, and 
began moving with the 2/9 toward Simemi 
Creek, its right flank in contact with the 
Australian left. 11 

The corvettes brought in the rest of the 
2/10 Battalion from Porlock Harbor that 
night, and the Japara came into Oro Bay 
the same night with U.S. troops and cargo. 
Troop commander on the Japara was Col. 
Collin S. Myers, who upon arrival became 
Commander COSC, Oro Bay. The ship 
carried 750 tons of cargo. Also on board 
were additional port battalion troops and 
an advance echelon of the 43d U.S. Engi- 
neers, the unit which was to build the road 
between Oro Bay and Dobodura. 

The Japara had brought in a number of 
Australian ponton barges for use in unload- 
ing operations. The barges were quickly 
lowered over the side, piled high with cargo, 



"Msg, Adv NGF to NGF, Ser 3630, 18 Dec 42; 
Tel Conv, Col Bowen, G-3 Buna Force, to Lt Col 
G. A. Bertram, Adv NGF, Ser 3760, in 32d Div G-3 
Jnl; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, pp. 74, 75, 76A; 32d 
Div Rpt of Arty, Papuan Campaign. 

11 Tel Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Ser 3737, 19 
Dec 42; Tel Msg, 32d Div to Adv NGF, Ser 3760, 
20 Dec 42, in 3 2d Div G-3 Jnl; 1st Bn, 126th Inf, 
Jnl, Sers 723, 733, 19 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, 
Jnl, Sers 14, 15, 22, 19 Dec 42; Buna Forces Sitrep, 
G-3, 19 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape 
Endaiadere and Giropa Point. Company K, 128th 
Infantry, had lost so many men by this time that it 
was attached as a platoon to Company I. Ltr, Col 
MacNab to Gen Ward, 7 Mar 51. 



and pushed to shore, where they were sub- 
sequently used as a floating dock. Unload- 
ing was accomplished in record time, and 
the Japara was out of harm's way before 
daylight. 12 

Early on 20 December, following a heavy 
artillery preparation, the 2/9 Battalion with 
four tanks attacked the enemy positions east 
of Strip Point. After a fight that lasted all 
day, the enemy opposition was overcome, 
and the 2/9 Battalion and units of the 3d 
Battalion, 128th Infantry, operating im- 
mediately to the south, began moving for- 
ward to the right bank of Simemi Creek. 
Company I, on the far left, ran into a sizable 
Japanese force before it reached the river 
bank. A heavy fire fight ensued, but the 
company, with the aid of Company C, 2/9 
Battalion, on its right, cleared out the enemy 
pocket and pushed on to the bank of the 
creek. By the end of the day only a small 
finger of land, extending into the mouth of 
the creek, remained in enemy hands. 

Thus far, the M3 tanks had performed 
well. W est of Strip Point, however, the ter- 
rain turned very marshy, and the tanks, 
fourteen tons dead-weight and never noted 
for their tractive power, began to bog down. 
One had to be abandoned, and a second was 
mired so badly it could not be extricated 
until the following day when the attack on 
the Japanese in the finger at the mouth of 
the creek was resumed. 

In the New Strip area the last pocket of 
Japanese resistance was mopped up on 20 
December. The Clarkson and Beaver forces 
made contact early in the morning and by 
noon had succeeded in clearing out the last 
of the enemy bunkers in front of the bridge. 

Fighting a skillful delaying action, Col- 



" Hist Port Det E, COSC, Buna; Interv with Col 
Moffatt, 30 Oct 49. 



WARREN FORCE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 



267 



onel Yamamoto had by this time managed 
to get the bulk of his remaining troops, 
mostly from the 229th Infantry, across the 
creek. They had made the crossing at two 
principal points. Those who had fought in 
the New Strip area used the bridge, and 
those who had survived the Duropa Plan- 
tation-Strip Point righting forded the shal- 
lows at the mouth of the creek. Colonel 
Yamamoto took great pains to guard this 
crossing, for it was the only place along the 
entire length of the creek where troops could 
readily wade over. A Japanese strongpoint 
on a tiny island at the mouth of the creek 
was heavily reinforced, and emplacements 
sited to fire across the shallows were set up 
on the west bank of the creek to deal with 
any attempt by the Allies to cross at that 
point. 13 

Crossing the Creek 

The Problem 

It was not immediately clear how the 
Allies were to cross the creek. Tanks could 
not negotiate the shallows, and an attempt 
to have troops attack in that area would cost 
many lives. An assault across the bridge, 
which was 125 feet long and spanned not 



11 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 749, 757, 760, 764, 
765, 767, 20 Dec 42, Sers 785, 787, 788, 21 Dec 42; 
3dBn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 0857, 1315, 1747, 1817, 1205, 
1210, 20 Dec 42; Buna Force G-3 Daily Periodic 
Rpt, 20 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape 
Endaiadere and Giropa Point; 18th Army Opns I, 
21, 29; Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 18 Apr 50. 
There are no figures as to the number of men Colo- 
nel Yamamoto had left when he began crossing the 
creek. However, I Corps overlays identify all four 
companies of the 3d Battalion, 229th Infantry, and 
Battalion Headquarters as being on the Old Strip, 
and the subsequent fighting on the strip would seem 
to indicate that Yamamoto had managed to get a 
substantial part of his command across the creek. 



only the creek but heavy swamp on either 
side of it, seemed the best solution. But this 
too presented difficulties since the Japanese 
had blown a large gap in the bridge and 
were covering it with several machine guns 
and forty or fifty riflemen. 14 

A patrol of the 1st Battalion, 1 28th Infan- 
try, attempted to cross the bridge just before 
noon on 20 December. Intense fire drove it 
off before it could even reach the eastern 
end. 15 Later in the day, a few men of the 
Ammunition and Pioneer platoon of the 1st 
Battalion, 1 26th Infantry, under their com- 
manding officer, 1st Lt. John E. Sweet, tried 
to put down a catwalk across the hole in the 
bridge, under cover of smoke shells from 
two 3 7 -mm. guns. With two of his men, 
Sweet moved out in the face of the enemy 
fire and started laying the catwalk, only to 
find that it had been cut about six inches 
too short. 16 

Seeing the failure of the attempt to close 
the gap in the bridge, Colonel Martin at 
once proposed a second attempt, this time 



14 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 760, 764, 767, 768, 
20 Dec 42, Sers 787, 788, 21 Dec 42; 3d Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, 1315, 1330, 20 Dec 42, 0210, 21 Dec 42; 
Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and 
Giropa Point; Hist 114th Engr Bn (C), Papuan 
Campaign. 

w 128th Inf Jnl, 1150, 20 Dec 42. During the 
withdrawal, a member of the patrol was seriously 
wounded and fell directly in the enemy's line of 
fire. A second member of the patrol, Pvt. Steve W. 
Parks, turned back and braved the bullets to carry 
the wounded man to safety. Parks was later 
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The cita- 
tion is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 36, 1 Jul 43. 

" 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 772, 774, 20 Dec 
42; 128th Inf Jnl, 1230, 1315, 1320, 1813, 20 Dec 
42; Hist 114th Engr Bn (C), Papuan Campaign; 
Interv with Lt Col Clifton P. Hannum, 18 Jan 51. 
Hannum, then a lieutenant and Major Beaver's 
S-3, witnessed the abortive attempt to bridge the 
gap in the bridge. Sweet was later awarded the 
Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq 
USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43. 



268 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




SIMEMI CREEK AREA west of the Mew Strip. Note swampy terrain and water-filled 
shell holes. 



with the aid of one of Brigadier Wootten's 
tanks. While the troops were laying the 
catwalk, Martin suggested, the tank would 
suddenly engage the enemy bunkers at the 
other end of the bridge and draw their fire. 
Brigadier Wootten had other plans for the 
tanks and the idea was dropped. 17 

Only one practicable alternative re- 
mained : to have troops cross the creek on 
foot and neutralize the enemy forces at the 
western end of the bridge when they got 
there. At best, this would be a difficult feat, 
since the creek, except at its mouth, was very 
deep, and the approaches to it were through 

1T Ltr, Col Martin to Gen Ward, 5 Mar 51. 



heavy swamp, full of prickly, closely spaced 
sago palms eighteen to twenty feet high. 18 

Ordered by Colonel Martin to find a 
crossing, Major Beaver sent a patrol into the 
creek late that afternoon. The men tried 
crossing at a point just north of the bridge. 
Japanese fire almost blew them out of the 
water and forced them back to their own 
side of the creek. Beaver tried again late 
that night, this time picking a spot south of 
the bridge. Company B, 126th Infantry, 
was chosen to make the crossing, but its at- 
tempt also failed. The water was too deep 
and the enemy too alert. At dawn Colonel 

"Hist lHth Engr Bn (C), Papuan Campaign; 
Interv with Col Teesdale-Smith, 10 Mar 50. 



WARREN FORCE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 



269 




BRIDGE OVER SIMEMI CREEK. New Strip in the background. (Photograph taken 
after bridge was repaired by the 1 14th Engineers.) 



Martin called the whole thing off. It was 
clear that there was no crossing to be found 
in the bridge area. 16 

The Australians Find a Crossing 

Strong efforts to find a crossing were 
being made downstream. Brigadier Wootten 
had assigned Company C, 2/10 Battalion, 
to Colonel Cummings on the 19th, partly 
to carry out that task and partly to make up 

" Tel Msg, Warren Force to Buna Force, Ser 
3812,21 Dec 42, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl: 1st Bn, 126th 
Inf, Jnl, Sers 765, 767, 782, 20 Dec 42, Sers 785, 
787, 788, 793, 796, 810, 21 Dec 42; 128th Inf Jnl, 
0210, 21 Dec 42 ; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at 
Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point. 



for the heavy casualties Cumming's battal- 
ion had suffered the day before. Wootten 
had also ordered Colonel MacNab to look 
for a crossing in his area, but his troops tried 
hard and failed. The 2/10 Battalion, less 
the company with the 2/9 Battalion, moved 
up to the front at noon on 20 December, 
and its commander, Lt. Col. James G. 
Dobbs, immediately gave his troops the 
task of finding a way across. At 1500 the 
following day, after the most difficult kind 
of reconnoitering during which the men 
were sometimes forced to move in water up 
to their necks, a patrol of Company A, 2/10 
Battalion, found a practicable crossing at a 
stream bend about 400 yards north of the 



270 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




bridge. Moving cautiously through the creek 
and the treacherous swamp beyond, the 
troops emerged on the other side at a point 
just below the lower (or eastern) end of the 
Old Strip, and there they consolidated. Ex- 
cept for a few strands of barbed wire, no 
signs of the Japanese were found in the 



M 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1315, 1330, 20 Dec 42, 
0823, 1000, 1510, 1900, 2300, 21 Dec 42; Rpt on 
Opns 18th Bde Gp at Gape Endaiadere and Giropa 
Point; Interv with Col Teesdale-Smith, 10 Mar 50. 
Colonel Teesdale-Smith, then intelligence officer of 
the 2/10 Battalion and a captain, was among the 
first to make the crossing. 



The rest of the battalion began crossing 
at once, using as a marker a galvanized iron 
hut on legs, which the Japanese had appar- 
ently used as a control tower. By the follow- 
ing morning most of the battalion's riflemen 
were across the creek. Except for a few 
mortar shells that fell in the crossing area 
from time to time, they met no opposition 
from the Japanese. 

The crossing by the 2/10 Battalion con- 
tinued through 22 December. By then the 
2/9 Battalion, the attached company of the 
2/10 Battalion, and four tanks had finished 
the task of clearing the Japanese from the 
east bank of Simemi Creek. Several enemy 



WARREN FORCE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 



271 



machine guns were still active on the island 
at the mouth of the creek, but, since they 
were difficult to get at and had only a 
nuisance value, Brigadier Wootten decided 
to ignore them for the moment. 21 

The Repair of the Bridge 

Final preparations for repair of the bridge 
were completed during the 2 2d. The engi- 
neer platoon charged with its repair — the 
3d Platoon, Company C, 114th Engineer 
Battalion — had finished gathering and haul- 
ing the needed timbers and other materials 
to the bridge site, The timbers, mostly coco- 
nut logs, were to be put in place, and the 
bridge secured for the passage next day not 
only of troops but also of tanks. Major 
Beaver's troops and those of Major Clark- 
son were standing by ready to cross, and 
four tanks of the 2/6 Armored Regiment 
were moving toward the bridge to be in 
position to cross as soon as it was repaired. 22 

By first light the next morning, 23 Decem- 
ber, the 2/1 Battalion, except for Company 
C which was still with the 2/9 Battalion, 
was across the creek. Colonel Dobbs, whose 
troops were now to the rear of the Japanese 
in the bridge area, at once sent two com- 
panies southward to clear them out. Appar- 



21 Msgs, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Scr 3914, 22 Dec 
42, Ser 4030, 23 Dec 42, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; Rpt 
on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and 
Giropa Point; Interv with Col Teesdale-Smith, 10 
Mar 50. 

K Tel Msg, Gen Eichelbergcr to 2d Lt James G. 
Doughtie, 114th Engr Bn, Ser 3759, 20 Dec 42; 
Tel Msg, Lt Winkler to Col Howe, Ser 4031, 23 
Dec 42. Both in 32d Div G-3 Jnl. 1st Bn, 126th 
Inf, Jnl, Sers 840, 858, 23 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, Ser 4, 23 Dec 42: Hist 114th Engr Bn 
(C), Papuan Campaign. The bridge is described 
in the engineer history as having been of "pile bent 
construction" requiring the replacement of "one 
bent, new bracing, and decking throughout its 
entire length." 



ently warned in time of the Australian ap- 
proach, most of the Japanese pulled out of 
their bunkers before the Australians arrived. 
By noon the few that were found had been 
killed, and the Australians were able to re- 
port "the bridge and 300 yards north neu- 
tralized." The bridge was still under fire 
from emplacements on the southwest side of 
the Old Strip, but these could be dealt with 
later when the repairs to the bridge were 
completed, and the Americans and the tanks 
crossed. 23 

The platoon of the 1 14th Engineer Bat- 
talion had begun working on the bridge as 
soon as it turned light. Despite heavy enemy 
fire, first from the bunkers at the other end 
of the bridge and then from the Old Strip 
when the Australians cleared the enemy out 
of the bridge area, the work proceeded 
speedily and efficiently under the able direc- 
tion of 2d Lt. James G. Doughtie, the engi- 
neer officer in charge. Cool and imperturba- 
ble under fire, Doughtie was everywhere, 
directing, encouraging, and steadying his 
men. By noon the repair of the bridge was 
well advanced. Half an hour later Doughtie 
had a catwalk down, and in ten minutes the 
leading platoon of Company B, 126th In- 
fantry was on the other side of the creek. 
It was quickly joined by the rest of the bat- 
talion. The 1st Battalion 128th Infantry, was 
to cross later in the afternoon ; the four tanks, 
as soon as the bridge was completed and 
found capable of bearing their weight. The 
2/9 Battalion and the 3d Battalion, 128th 
Infantry, were to remain in position and 
hold the coast. It was understood that Com- 



23 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 840, 845, 23 Dec 
42 ; Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 24 
Dec 42, copy in OCMH files; Interv with Col 
Teesdale-Smith, 10 Mar 50; Hist 114th Engr Bn 
(C), Papuan Campaign; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde 
Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point. 



272 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



pany C, 2/10 Battalion, would be returned 
to Colonel Dobbs' command when the 
mop-up east of the creek was completed. 21 

The Fight for the Old Strip 

The Situation on the Eve 
of the Attack 

As soon as they crossed the bridge, Major 
Beaver's troops began moving toward the 
strip. Enemy fire from flat- trajectory weap- 
ons and mortars was heavy, and progress 
was slow. Colonel Martin joined the troops 
at 1530. They tied in on Colonel Dobbs' 
left at 1745 and took up a position along 
the southern edge of the strip. The last drift- 
pin was driven into the bridge an hour later, 
and Major Clarkson's battalion was across 
the creek and had moved up on Major 
Beaver's left by 1920. The plan now was 
to have the tanks cross the bridge and join 
the infantry early the next morning. Upon 
their arrival, the 2/10 Battalion, with the 
two American battalions in support would 
attack straight up the strip. The force would 
jump off from a line drawn perpendicularly 
across the strip from the galvanized iron 
hut or control tower where the Australians 
had established their first bridgehead on 2 1 
December. 

Colonel Yamamoto had had time to man 
the prepared positions in the Old Strip area 
and appeared to be holding them in consid- 



24 Tel Msg, Brig Wootten to 32d Div, Ser 1014, 
23 Dec 42, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; 1st Bn, 126th Inf, 
Jnl, Sers 840, 849, 850, 854, 856, 858, 861, 23 Dec 
42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 2, 4, 5, 18, 26, 34, 
23 Dec 42; 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1135, 1430, 23 
Dec 42; 128th Inf Jnl, 0915, 1304, 1450, 1530, 
1615, 1723, 23 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp 
at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point. Doughtie 
was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. 
The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 4, 10 Jan 
43. 



erable strength. The area was a warren of 
trenches and bunkers. The Japanese had 
dug several lines of trenches across the width 
of the strip and their trench system extended 
from the swamp to Simemi Creek. There 
were bunkers in the dispersal bays north of 
the strip, in the area south of it on the strip 
itself, and in a grove of coconut trees off its 
northwestern end. 

Nor did Yamamoto lack weapons. He 
was well provided with machine guns and 
mortars, and he had at least two 75-mm. 
guns, two 37-mm. guns, and, at the north- 
west end of the strip, several 25-mm. dual 
and triple pompoms — a type of multiple 
barrel automatic cannon much favored by 
the Japanese. Near the northwest end of the 
strip and several hundred yards to the south- 
east he had in position several 3 -inch naval 
guns in triangular pattern connecting with 
bunkers and fire trenches. With still another 
3-inch gun north of the strip, Yamamoto 
was in an excellent position to sweep the 
strip with fire provided his ammunition held 
out. 

It had been known for some time that the 
Japanese had 3 -inch guns on the strip, but 
the artillery believed that they had been 
knocked out. The fact that the air force had 
not received any antiaircraft fire from the 
strip for several days seemed to confirm this 
belief. To be on the safe side, it was decided 
to commit only three of the four tanks. The 
fourth tank would be kept in reserve until 
the situation clarified itself. 25 



"Tel Msg, Maj Ziebell to Col Howe, Ser 4023, 
23 Dec 42; Tel Msgs, Lt Winkler to Col Howe, 
Sers 4031, 4051, 23 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Lt Hannum 
to Col Howe, Ser 4033, 23 Dec 42; 3d Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, 1135, 1430, 23 Dec 42; 128th Inf, Jnl, 
1450, 1512, 1723, 1745, 1910, 1920, 23 Dec 42; 
3 2d Div Sitrep, No. 120, 23 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 
18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point; 
Interv with Col Teesdale-Smith, 3 Mar 50. 



WARREN FORCE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 



273 



At dusk of the same night, 23 December, 
two armed Japanese motor-torpedo-type 
boats — which may have been the same 
boats that brought General Oda to Giruwa 
the night before — rounded Cape Endaia- 
dere and sank the Eva, an ammunition- 
laden barge at Hariko, as it was being un- 
loaded by the troops of the Service Com- 
pany, 128th Infantry. The two Japanese 
boats then machine-gunned the beach at 
2250 with .50-caliber tracer ammunition. 
The Service Company answered with small 
arms fire from positions just off the beach, 
but the boats got away before heavier weap- 
ons could be brought to bear upon them. 
Taking no chances, Colonel MacNab at 
once began strengthening his beach de- 
fenses lest the Japanese try something of 
the same sort again. 26 

While the Japanese were shooting up 
Hariko with little result, further down the 
coast at Oro Bay the Bantam, a K.P.M. 
ship of the same class as the Karsik and the 
Japara, came in with two more M3 tanks, 
and 420 tons of supplies. The ship was 
quickly unloaded and returned safely to 
Porlock Harbor before daybreak. 27 

The Attack Opens 

Early on 24 December the tanks crossed 
the bridge and moved up to the Australian 
area on the northern side of the strip from 
which the main attack was to be launched. 
After an artillery preparation with smoke, 
the troops jumped off at 0950 from a line 
of departure approximately 200 yards up 
the strip. The tanks and two companies of 
the 2/10 Battalion were on the far right, 



"3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 2250, 2320, 23 Dec 42; 
128th Inf Jnl, 2225, 23 Dec 42, 1105, 24 Dec 42. 

11 Interv with Col Moffatt, 30 Oct 49; Hist Port 
Det E, COSC, Buna. 



one company of the 2/ 10th was on the strip 
itself, the 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry, 
under Major Beaver, was immediately to 
the left, and the 1st Battalion, 128th In- 
fantry, under Major Clarkson, was on the 
far left. Beaver's mission was to protect the 
Australian flank; Clarkson's to comb the 
swamp for Japanese and destroy them. 

During the first hour the attack went well, 
but it ran into serious trouble just before 
1 100. The dual purpose 3-inch guns opened 
up on the thinly armored M3's and quickly 
knocked out two of them. The third tank 
went the way of the first two when it turned 
over in a shell hole a few moments later and 
was rendered useless by enemy shellfire. 

With the tanks out of the way, the enemy 
guns and pompoms began firing down the 
center of the strip. Company A, 2/10 Bat- 
talion, had to move from its position on the 
strip in the center of the Allied line to the 
Australian side of the runway. For the next 
two days no Allied troops could use the 
strip itself. 

Forward observers located one of the 
enemy's 3-inch guns on the left shortly after 
it had fired on the tanks, and the artillery 
promptly knocked it out. Because the ob- 
servers were unable to locate the remaining 
guns, Brigadier Wootten decided to commit 
no more M3's to the attack until he knew 
definitely that all the enemy's 3-inch guns 
were out of action. Without tanks the attack 
moved slowly against enemy machine gun, 
mortar, and pompom fire. 

A light rain during the afternoon further 
retarded the fighting. Urged on by Colonel 
Martin and Major Beaver the latter's troops 
pulled abreast of Colonel Dobb's force by 
nightfall. The Allies had gained about 450 
yards in the day's operations and were about 
650 yards up the strip on either side of it. 
On the far left Major Clarkson's troops had 



274 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



met no Japanese, but heavy swamp crippled 
their movement early in the action. They 
were then ordered out of the swamp and 
put in line along the southern edge of the 
strip, immediately to the rear of Major 
Beaver's force. Clarkson's men were to fol- 
low Beaver's, mop up behind them, and ulti- 
mately take their place in the front line. 28 

On the east side of the creek relative tran- 
quillity had descended. The last vestiges 
of Japanese opposition were overcome on 
23 December, though not before Colonel 
Cummings had been wounded in the breast 
and arm by a shell fragment from the other 
side of the creek. Colonel MacNab, whose 
CP was just below Cape Endaiadere, took 
command of the sector. Because Company 
C, 2/10 Battalion, was no longer needed in 
the area, it was detached from the 2/9 Bat- 
talion and ordered across the creek to rejoin 
its parent battalion. 

The 2/9 Battalion and the 3d Battalion, 
128th Infantry, improved their Cape 
Endaiadere defensive positions. The Aus- 
tralian battalion occupied the east bank of 
the creek and the shore from its mouth to 
Strip Point; the American battalion took 
over defense of the coast line from Strip 
Point around Cape Endaiadere and south 
to Boreo. With no fighting to do for the 
moment, the troops in this sector took time 
to clean up. Those along the coast were per- 
mitted to swim. Some of the soldiers even 



38 Tel Msg, Capt R. J. C. O'Loan, ALO, to G-2, 
32d Div, Ser 4120, 24 Dec 42; Msg, 18th Bde to 
32d Div, Ser 4136, 24 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Brig Woot- 
ten to 32d Div, Ser 4137, 24 Dec 42. All in 32d Div 
G-3 Jnl. 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 679, 882, 883, 
884, 891, 893, 895, 24 Dee 42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, 
Jnl, Sers 1, 4, 8, 10, 11, 14, 16, 19, 24 Dec 42; 
128th Inf Jnl, 0920, 1130, 1225, 1331, 1352, 1405, 
1407, 24 Dec 42; 32d Div Sitrep, No. 122, 24 Dec 
42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere 
and Giropa Point. 



began amusing themselves by catching fish, 
using Mills bombs to subdue them. 29 

The Fighting on the Old Strip 

On the Old Strip, meanwhile, there was 
the bitterest kind of fighting. Attempts by 
patrols of the 2/10 Battalion to take ground 
from the Japanese during the night were 
unsuccessful. The enemy troops in foxholes 
forward of the bunkers were too alert and 
determined. 

At 0515, Christmas morning, Company 
C, 2/10 Battalion, reverted to Colonel 
Dobbs' command and, on Brigadier Woot- 
ten's order, was sent to the far left of the 



" Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Ser 4136, 24 Dec 42; 
Tel Msg, Capt Khail, S-2, 3d Bn, 128th Inf, to G-2, 
32d Div, Ser 4195, 25 Dec 42; 3d Bn, 128th Inf, 
Jnl, 1738, 2135, 24 Dec 42, 1430, 25 Dec 42; Rpt 
on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and 
Giropa Point. Colonel MacNab tells two stories illus- 
trative of the comradeship between his troops and 
the Australians. On the afternoon of the 24th Colo- 
nel MacNab visited the 2/9 Battalion, which was 
then under his command. On his way back he 
wished a couple of Australian soldiers a Merry 
Christmas. Thereupon, in Colonel MacNab's words, 
"An older corporal replied, 'I sie Colonel, 'where 
shall I hang me bloody sock?' I replied, 'well away 
from your foxhole — the Nip may play Santa Claus.' 
Sure enough, the Jap bombed us . . . that night. 
The next morning when I was going up this same 
group [intercepted] me, The same corporal reported, 
'Colonel, you were too right, see where I hung my 
sock?' He pointed to a sock hanging on a bush over 
a new bomb crater about fifty yards away. We had 
a good laugh. I am reasonably sure the sock was 
hung there that morning." 

The American troops had gotten their Red Cross 
Christmas boxes on time, but, as Colonel MacNab 
tells it, "the Aussie boxes, furnished by a volunteer 
ladies organization in Australia did not arrive. Our 
men were very solicitous to share their delicacies 
with the Australians. Later, when the Australian 
boxes arrived, the woods were full of raucous Aussies 
looking for 'that Yank bastard who gave me most of 
his Christmas.' During both occasions, I never saw 
a man eating his stuff alone." Ltr, Col MacNab to 
author, 18 Apr 50. 




AMERICAN AND AUSTRALIAN CASUALTIES, to be moved to the rear by natives, 
wait on litters in the Cape Endaiadere area. 



276 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Allied line. Its instructions were to move 
through the swamp and threaten the 
enemy's right flank while the Americans 
and the rest of the 2/10 Battalion continued 
their efforts to push forward frontally. 
Brigadier Wootten also ordered two pla- 
toons of the 2/9 Battalion to the bridge, 
where they were to be available when need- 
ed for action on the strip. 30 

The Allies attacked at 0700 after a ten- 
minute artillery smoke barrage. Throughout 
the day Company C, 2/10 Battalion, made 
very slow progress in the swamp, and the 
American and Australian companies farther 
to the right had little success against the 
well-manned enemy bunker and trench posi- 
tions. Company C, 126th Infantry, Major 
Beaver's leading unit, had scarcely left the 
line of departure when it was stopped by a 
hidden enemy strongpoint somewhere to its 
front, and Major Clarkson's battalion on 
Beaver's left had the same experience. 

Colonel Martin, who was still in the front 
lines lending a hand personally in the con- 
duct of operations, at once ordered a patrol 
of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, into 
the swamp with orders to come in on the 
enemy's rear. The patrol returned with a 
report that the swamp was impenetrable. 
Convinced that troops could get through the 
swamp if they had the will to do so, Martin 
asked Clarkson for an officer with "guts" to 
take the assignment, Clarkson picked 2d Lt. 
George J. Hess of Company A for the task. 
Hess left the battalion CP about 0900 with 
fifteen men. Swinging to the left, he and his 
men worked their way through the swamp, 



M Tel Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Sers 4218, 4245, 
25 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape 
Endaiadere and Giropa Point. 



sometimes sinking waist deep in mud. Colo- 
nel Martin went about halfway with them, 
gave his final instructions, and returned to 
the American line. By early afternoon, the 
patrol had cut its way around the Japanese 
right flank and established itself on dry 
ground on the Japanese left rear without 
being observed by the enemy. 

Colonel Martin spent the rest of the after- 
noon in the front lines trying to get troops 
through to the position held by Hess but was 
not immediately able to do so. 31 Heavy fight- 
ing developed all along the front, but there 
was little change in dispositions except for 
the flanking movements on the left. By late 
afternoon the Allied line was a shallow V, 
with the runway still open and the point of 
the V east of the area where Yamamoto had 
most of his 3-inch guns emplaced. 

The Japanese had meanwhile discovered 
that there were American troops in the 
dense undergrowth on their right rear. They 
started sending mortar and small arms fire 
in that direction, but were slow in organiz- 
ing a force to drive them out. Company C, 
128th Infantry, under 1st Lt. Donald A. 
Foss reached Hess' position before night- 
fall. Except for intermittent area fire, the 
unit met no opposition from the enemy. 
Colonel Martin, who was with the incoming 
troops, ordered Foss to launch an attack 
the next morning on the nearest enemy 



31 Martin spent as much time as he possibly 
could in the front lines. At one point in the day's 
fighting he climbed a tall tree that overlooked the 
Japanese positions in order to get a better bead on 
enemy troops lurking in the tall grass immediately 
to his front. From this vantage point he killed 
several of them with a rifle. He was later awarded 
the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation, which 
covers the period 3 December 1942 to 5 January 
1943, is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 2, 30 Mar 43. 



WARREN FORGE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 



277 



emplacement about 100 yards to the 
northeast. 32 

By the following morning, 26 December, 
after a very difficult march through the 
swamp, Company C, 2/10 Battalion, was in 
position on Lieutenant Foss's left. After a 
ten-minute artillery preparation, the two 
companies attacked the enemy from the 
flank at 0702, in concert with the troops at- 
tacking from the front. After close-in fight- 
ing, two Japanese guns were taken, one by 
the American company and the other by the 
Australian company. The guns, installed on 
concrete bases, were sited so that they could 
command all approaches from south and 
east. Each was surrounded by a 4 1 / 3 -foot- 
high circular earth embankment, so over- 
grown with grass that it was impossible to 
distinguish it from the surrounding kunai 
grass except at very close range. Bunkers and 
flanking trenches connected with it, but the 
enemy guns had run out of ammunition. 

Because the left-flank operations gave 
more promise of success than frontal assault 
up the strip, Brigadier Wootten decided to 
reinforce his left. Company A, 2/10 Bat- 
talion, crossed the runway and took up a 
position in the left center of the line on 
Major Beaver's right, leaving Companies D 
and B to deal with the opposition to the 
right of the strip. Company C, 2/10 Bat- 
talion, thereupon flanked farther to the left 

32 Tel Msg, Maj Beaver to Col Howe, Ser 4208, 
25 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Maj Ziebell to 32d Div, Ser 
4217, 25 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Brig Wootten to 32d 
Div, Sers 4281, 4245, 25 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Lt 
Winkler to 32d Div, Ser 4274, 25 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 
126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 908, 909, 910, 912, 918, 25 Dec 
42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 1, 3 through 7, 25 
Dec 42; 128th Inf Jnl, 0800, 0950, 1012, 1108, 
1230, 1440, 1902, 25 Dec 42; 32d Div Sitrep, No. 
124, 25 Dec 42 ; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape 
Endaiadere and Giropa Point; Ltr, Gen Martin to 
Gen Ward, 6 Mar 51. Hess was later awarded the 
Silver Star. The citation is in GO No. 37, Hq 
USAFFE, 12 May 44. 



to deal with an especially formidable con- 
centration of bunkers on up the strip. 
Company A, 2/10 Battalion, and the two 
American battalions with it, were left to 
overcome the strong enemy positions south 
of the strip. 33 

Except for this movement on the left 
flank, little change occurred on the front. 
The center of the line was still about 650 
yards up the strip. The line itself had the ap- 
pearance of a sickle : the Australian troops 
on the far right formed the handle; the 
Australian and American troops in the cen- 
ter and left center, the blade ; and Company 
C, 2/10 Battalion, on the far left and 
thrusting northward, the hook. 34 

Late that night, while the Japanese on 
the Old Strip unsuccessfully counterat- 
tacked Company D, 2/10 Battalion, on the 
far right, the Japara came into Oro Bay for 
the second time. It brought in another troop 
of M3 tanks, the remainder of the men who 
were to operate the port, and the rest of the 
engineer troops who were to build the 
Oro Bay-Dobodura road. Unloading pro- 
ceeded rapidly, and the ship left before 
daylight. 35 



3:1 Msgs, Lt Winkler to 32d Div, Sers 4269, 4321, 
26 Dec 42; Tei Msgs, Maj Beaver to Col Howe, 
Sers 4288, 4306, 26 Dec 42; Msgs, 18th Bde to 
32d Div, Sers 4300, 4307, 4325, 4333, 26 Dec 42; 
1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 923, 924, 925, 935, 944, 
26 Dec 42; 32d Div Sitrep, No. 126, 26 Dec 42; 
Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and 
Giropa Point. 

M Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Sers 4307, 4333, 26 
Dec 42; Tel Msg, Lt Winkler to 32d Div, Ser 4321, 
26 Dec. 42; 32d Div Sitrep, No. 126, 26 Dec 42; 
Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and 
Giropa Point. 

"'Msg, NGF to 32d Div, Ser 4275, 25 Dec 42; 
Msg, Col Collin S. Myers to Col Howe, Ser 4484, 
28 Dec 42, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; Hist Port Det E, 
COSC, Buna; Interv with Col Moffatt, 30 Oct 49; 
Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and 
Giropa Point. 



278 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



After an unsuccessful raid on Dobodura 
early on 26 December, fifty-four Rabaul- 
based Japanese aircraft, staging through 
Lae, raided Buna again the following morn- 
ing. The raid netted little. Allied losses on 
the ground were three killed and eight 
wounded, but the enemy was intercepted 
by twenty fighter planes of the Fifth Air 
Force and lost fourteen aircraft. The Allies 
lost one P-38.' ,G 

The 3.7-inch howitzers of the O'Hare 
Troop below the bridge ran out of ammu- 
nition on 26 December and could take no 
further part in the fighting. However, a 
25-pounder of the Hall Troop, emplaced 
early on 27 December at the southeast end 
of the strip, more than made up for the loss, 
for this weapon finally broke the Japanese 
defense of the Old Strip. The gun had excel- 
lent observation of the enemy positions on 
the strip, bringing observed direct fire upon 
them. Using armor-piercing projectiles with 
supercharge at about a 1,000-yard range, 
the 25-pounder not only knocked out one of 
the remaining enemy pompoms but, with 
the 4.5 howitzers of the Stokes Troop, forced 
enemy troops out of their bunkers by 
fire alone — a feat that only the 105-mm. 
howitzer had previously been able to 
accomplish. 37 

M 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Scr 1, 26 Dec 42, Ser 
23, 27 Dec 42; Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 27 Dec 
42; G-3 Opns Rpt, No. 264, 27 Dec 42; 32d Div 
Sitrep, No. 128, 27 Dec 42; 18th Army Opns I, 31. 
These two raids marked the debut in the righting 
of the 11th Air Regiment, the first Japanese army 
air force unit to reach Rabaul. 

"Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Ser 4433, 28 Dec 
42; Msg, NGF to 32d Div, Ser 4536, 28 Dec 42; 
3 2d Div Hist of Arty, Papuan Campaign; Rpt on 
Opns 18th Bde Gp at Gape Endaiadere and Giropa 
Point. Another expedient used by the troop com- 
mander was to leave in place the small brass pro- 
tecting caps that came with the fuses, thereby giving 
the projectiles a slightly delayed action which in- 
creased their effectiveness still further. Ltr, Col 
MacNab to Gen Ward, 7 Mar 51. 



Clearing the Strip 

Thus by 27 December the fight for the 
strip was in its last stages. Allied artillery 
fire and pressure on his right flank forced 
Colonel Yamamoto to begin withdrawing 
to the plantation area around Giropa Point, 
though a desperately fighting rear guard 
tried to keep the fact of the withdrawal 
from Warren Force as long as possible. The 
Australian companies moving on the Japa- 
nese positions at the head of the strip from 
either flank met appreciably less resistance. 
In the center the Australian and American 
troops who, up to this time, had been meet- 
ing the most fanatical Japanese opposition 
noted a similar weakening.™ 

The advance went slowly during the 
morning of the 27th but accelerated during 
the afternoon as the 25-pounder took its 
toll of enemy positions. At 1615 Colonel 
Martin reported that the enemy was on the 
run. Progress thereafter was rapid. Com- 
panies A and D, 2/10 Battalion, and Major 
Clarkson's battalion, aided by elements of 
Company C, 2/10 Battalion, had things 
their own way that afternoon. They 
squeezed the Japanese out of the last line of 
trenches across the strip and cleaned out a 
large bunker as well as an even larger dis- 
persal bay to the rear of the trenches. At 
nightfall the troops in the center — Company 
A, 2/10 Battalion, and Company A, 128th 
Infantry — were working on a main enemy 
bunker behind the dispersal bay — the last 
organized enemy position on the runway.™ 

" lst~Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 978, 981, 27 Dec 
42; 128th Inf Jnl, 1446, 1750, 27 Dec 42; 18th 
Army Opns I, 27; Rpt on Opns ISth Bde Gp at 
Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point, 

38 Tel Msg, Maj Ziebell to Col Howe, Ser 4404, 
27 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 982, 984, 
27 Dec 42: 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 18, 19, 27 
Dec 42; 128th Inf Jnl, 1225, 1446, 1615, 1621, 
1750, 2000, 27 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp 
at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point. 



WARREN FORCE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 



279 



The line was rearranged during the eve- 
ning. The company from the 2/9 Battalion, 
in brigade reserve, was ordered across the 
bridge to be available on the strip in case 
of need. Stretched across the upper third of 
the strip, the troops were now advancing on 
an 850-yard front that extended from the 
edge of the swamp on the left to Simemi 
Creek on the right. The men were abreast — 
Australian and American units alternating. 
From left to right the line was held by Com- 
pany C, 2/10 Battalion, Company B, 128th 
Infantry, and Companies D and B, 2/10 
Battalion, with the other tired and depleted 
units in close support. 40 

That night the Australian freighter 
Mulcra came in to Oro Bay with a troop of 
M3 tanks and 400 tons of cargo. As it un- 
loaded and got away, the Japanese in the 
dispersal bays at the head of the strip again 
counterattacked Company D, 2/10 Battal- 
ion, on the far right. The Japanese fought 
hard but, as had been the case the night 
before, were repulsed with heavy loss. 41 

Although Brigadier Wootten still had four 
tanks on hand, and seven more were on their 
way from Oro Bay, he no longer needed 
tanks for the reduction of the Old Strip. 
Heavy fire of all kinds was still coming from 
the dispersal bays at the head of the strip, 
and still heavier fire from the enemy posi- 
tions in the Government Plantation immedi- 
ately to the rear, but in the area through 
which the Old Strip ran and on the strip 
itself, there was little but sporadic rifle fire. 
Organized resistance in the area collapsed 



40 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Ser 28, 27 Dec 42; 128th 
Inf Jnl, 1446, 1621, 1854, 1930, 27 Dec 42; Tel 
Msg, Col Martin to 32d Div, Ser 4454, 28 Dec 42; 
32d Div Sitrep, No. 129, 28 Dec 42. 

" Msg, Col Myers to Col Howe, Ser 4484, 28 
Dec 42; Tel Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Ser 4446, 
28 Dec 42; Hist Port Det E, COSC, Buna; Interv 
with Col Moffatt, 30 Oct 49. 



by noon of 28 December and the troops 
began mopping up. 

It was a bloody business. The remaining 
Japanese, cornered and hopeless, fought to 
the end. Hand grenades tossed into their 
holes would be tossed back, and the Allied 
troops always had to be on the alert for 
frenzied suicide rushes with sword or bay- 
onet. Some of the bypassed enemy troops 
had taken refuge in trees. In at least one 
instance, three Japanese were shot out of a 
single tree. In another case half a dozen 
Japanese troops were cut down carrying 
Mi's and wearing American helmets and 
fatigues. A few Japanese on the far left tried 
to escape by taking to the swamp; they 
were picked off one by one by troops ordered 
by Major Clarkson into the swamp for that 
purpose. 42 

The Allied troops stabilized their line by- 
noon, 28 December, with Company C, 2/10 
Battalion, on the far left, within 200 or 300 
yards of the belt of coconut palms forward 
of the point. The other companies made 
only slight gains as they came under ex- 
tremely heavy fire from the dispersal bays 
and enemy emplacements among the trees 
of the plantation. A further attack late in 
the afternoon by Company C, 2/10 Bat- 
talion, though supported by artillery, failed. 
As evening fell, the Japanese began counter- 
attacking. They struck against the center of 
the line at 1940, while Company C, 128th 
Infantry, was in the process of relieving 
Company A, 2/10 Battalion. Joint action 
by both companies repulsed the attack, and 
the Australian company took up a new posi- 
tion on the left. 



"Msg, NGF to 32d Div, Ser 4537, 28 Dec 42; 
1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 4, 16, 36, 48, 49, 51, 
59, 60, 65, 73, 76, 28 Dec 42 ; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde 
Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point; F. Till- 
man Durdin, The New York Times, 1 Jan 43. 



280 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




WARREN FORCE MEN AFTER THE ATTACK on Cape Endaiadere, 22 December. 



At 2300 the Japanese in the dispersal 
bays at the head of the strip unleashed their 
third blow in three nights at Company D, 
2/10 Battalion, on the far right. Once again 
they were repulsed. About twenty Japanese, 
who had apparently been caught inside the 
Allied lines, managed to reach the com- 
mand post of Company C, 128th Infantry, 
at 0400 the next morning without being de- 
tected. They attacked in the dark with gre- 
nades and bayonets, some yelling, "Medic, 
Medic," the call used by American 
wounded. Several men who were asleep in 
the command post area were bayoneted by 
the enemy, and other Americans, mostly 
without weapons, were killed in hand-to- 
hand encounters. By the time the Japanese 
were driven off they had killed fifteen men 



and wounded twelve, including Lieutenant 
Foss, Company C's fifth commander in the 
five weeks since the fighting began. Since 
Foss was the company's only remaining offi- 
cer, 1st Lt. Sheldon M. Dannelly, com- 
manding officer of Company A, 128th 
Infantry, which was on C's right, took com- 
mand of Company C. Only five of the raid- 
ing Japanese were killed. 43 

The enemy's counterattacks had gained 
him no ground. The Old Strip was firmly 

"Tel Msgs, 18th Bde to 3 2d Div, Ser 4446, 28 
Dec 42, Ser 4527, 29 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Capt Khail 
to Maj Hawkins, Ser 4533, 29 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 
126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 1001, 28 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, Sers 70, 72, 75, 28 Dec 42, Sers 3, 13, 29 
Dec 42; 128th Inf Jnl, 1405, 1914, 2135, 28 Dec 
42; 32d Div Sitrep, No. 132, 29 Dec 42; Rpt on 
Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa 
Point; Durdin, The New York Times, 1 Jan 43. 



WARREN FORCE TAKES THE INITIATIVE 



281 



in Allied hands. Warren Force was within 
easy striking distance of Giropa Point, the 
last enemy stronghold on the Warren front. 
The next step would be to take the point 
and clear the area between it and the west 



bank of Simemi Creek. This step — a climac- 
tic one which would put the entire shore 
between Giropa Point and Cape Endaia- 
dere in Allied hands — Brigadier Wootten 
was to lose no time in taking. 



CHAPTER XV 



Urbana Force Closes on the Mission 



On 16 December, in compliance with 
orders of Advance New Guinea Force, Col- 
onel Tomlinson, then in command of Ur- 
bana Force, ordered a platoon of Company 
F, 126th Infantry, led by Lieutenant 
Schwartz to Tarakena, a point about one 
mile northwest of Siwori Village. The move 
was taken to prevent the Japanese in the 
Giruwa area from reinforcing their hard- 
pressed brethren east of the river. Buna 
Force issued orders the next day for the 
capture of the island and Triangle. The 
island was to be taken on 1 8 December, the 
day of the tank attack on the Warren front ; 
the Triangle, one day later. An element of 
the 127th Infantry would take the island; 
what was left of the 126th Infantry, the 



Triangle. 1 {Map 14 



The Search for an Axis of Attack 
The Situation: 18 December 

Capture of Buna Village had narrowed 
down the ground still held by the Japanese 
on the Urbana front, but the main objective, 
Buna Mission, was still in Japanese hands, 
and seemingly as hard to get at as ever. The 
problem was to find a practicable axis of 



1 NGF OI No. 53, 16 Dec 42; 2d Bn, 126th Inf, 
Jnl, 1335, 16 Dec 42; Buna Force FO No. 3, 17 
Dec 42 : Tel Msg, Urbana Force to Col Howe, Ser 
3522, 18 Dec 42. 



attack, and this the projected operations 
were designed to provide. Seizure of the 
island would not only make it possible to 
bring the mission under close-in fire but 
might supply a jumping-off point for a 
direct attack upon it from the south. The 
Triangle, in turn, would furnish an excel- 
lent line of departure for an advance 
through Government Gardens to the sea, a 
necessary- preliminary to an attack on the 
mission from the southeast. 

The fresh 127th Infantry would be avail- 
able in its entirety for these operations. The 
3d Battalion was already in the line and had 
been for several days. After consolidating 
at Ango, the 2d Battalion had just begun 
moving to the front. Companies E and F 
were on their way there, and Headquarters 
Company and Companies G and H were 
moving forward. The 1st Battalion was still 
being flown in and would come forward as 
soon as its air movement was completed. 

With the 127th Infantry moving up 
steadily, Colonel Tomlinson reshuffled his 
line. Company I, 127th Infantry, took the 
place of the 2d Battalion, 128th Infantry, 
in the area between the island and the 
Coconut Grove. The battalion, less the 
mortar platoon of Company H, which re- 
mained behind, was ordered to Simemi for 
a well-earned rest. The 2d Battalion, 126th 
Infantry, took over in the Coconut Grove 
and moved troops into position above and 



URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 283 




MAP 14 



below the Triangle. Companies E and F, 
127th Infantry, meanwhile reached the 
front and went into reserve. A mixed platoon 
of the 126th Infantry under 1st Lt. Alfred 
Kirchenbauer began moving to Siwori Vil- 
lage to replace the 128th Infantry troops 
there, and the Schwartz patrol of 15 men 
started out for Tarakena. 2 



- 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 1245, 1800, 2200, 18 Dec 
42; Tel Msg, Col Bowen to Cols Grose and Tom- 
linson, Ser 3634, 19 Dec 42; 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 
0700, 1400, 19 Dec 42. 



The First Try at the Island 

On 1 7 December Colonel Tomlinson gave 
Company L, 127th Infantry, orders to take 
the island the next morning. This was to be 
no easy task, for the footbridge to the island 
had been destroyed and the creek was a 
tidal stream, unfordable even at low tide. 
The troops had no bridge-building equip- 
ment, and the distance from one bank to the 
other was too great to be bridged by felling 
trees. One alternative remained: to have 



284 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



swimmers drag a cable across the stream. 
This expedient worked, and two platoons 
and a light machine gun section of the com- 
pany, commanded by Capt. Roy F. Went- 
land, got across just before noon on 18 
December. 

The two platoons, joined shortly there- 
after by a third, moved cautiously forward 
along the eastern half of the island without 
meeting any opposition. However, when 
they started moving toward the bridge that 
connected the island with the mission, they 
ran into very heavy fire from concealed 
enemy positions. In the fire fight that fol- 
lowed, five men, including Captain Went- 
land, where killed and six were wounded. 
The heavy enemy fire continued, and the 
troops, under the impression that they were 
heavily outnumbered, pulled back to the 
mainland that night, leaving the island still 
in enemy hands. 3 

The 126th Infantry 
Attacks the Triangle 

The attack on the island had failed. The 
attack on the Triangle was next. This nar- 
row, jungle-covered tongue of land set in 
the midst of a swamp, and covering the only 
good track to Buna Mission, was in effect a 
natural fortress. Improving upon nature, 
the Japanese had hidden bunkers and fire 
trenches on either arm of the Triangle and 
in the track junction itself. To try to storm 
the junction from the south meant taking 
prohibitive losses. To try taking it from the 
north by advancing into its mouth by way 
of the bridge over Entrance Creek was likely 

3 Tel Msg, Col Howe to Buna Force, Scr 3553, 
1 8 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Col Howe to Col Bowen, Ser 
3568, 18 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Capt Oliver O. Dixon, 
S-3 Urbana Force, to G-3 Buna Force, Ser 3580, 
18 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Col Tomlinson to Col Bowen, 
Ser 3582. 18 Dec 42; 2d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1150, 
18 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 18, 19 Dec 42. 



to be almost as costly. There was no room 
for maneuver in the narrow and confined 
area east of the bridge, and no way to take 
the track junction from the south except 
by advancing through interlocking bands 
of fire. 

The plan of assault, profiting from the 
experience gained in an abortive attack on 
the place by Companies E and G, 128th 
Infantry, on 17 December, called for two 
companies of the 126th Infantry to attack 
across the bridge from the Coconut Grove, 
and a third company to block the position 
from the south. The jump-off would be pre- 
ceded by an air strike on the mission and 
a preparation on the Triangle itself by 
Colonel McCreary's seventeen 81 -mm. 
mortars, which were in battery about 300 
yards south of the bridge to the island. 
Since the Triangle was narrow and inac- 
cessible, neither air nor artillery would be 
used in direct support of the troops lest they 
be hit by friendly fire. 

Some 100 men from Companies E and G, 
plus the attached weapons crews of Com- 
pany H, were to mount the attack. They 
crossed the bridge over Entrance Creek and 
moved into the bridgehead area at the 
mouth of the Triangle at 2200, 18 Decem- 
ber. Shortly thereafter, the thirty-six men 
of Company F, the holding force, went into 
position in the area below the track 
junction. 4 

Beginning at 0650 the following morning, 
nine B-25's dropped 100-pound and 500- 
pound demolitions on the mission. They 
were followed at 0715 by thirteen A-20's 
which bombed and strafed the coastal track 
between the mission and Giropa Point. The 

1 Buna Force No. 3, 17 Dec 42; Tel Msgs, Col 
Howe to Col Bowen, Sers 3568, 3647, 19 Dec 42; 
Tel Msg, Capt Dixon to Col Bradley, Ser 3631, 19 
Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Col Bowen to Col Tomlinson, 
Ser 3634, 19 Dee 42. 



URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 



285 



A-20's dropped 475 twenty-pound para- 
chute and cluster fragmentation bombs and 
fired more than 21,000 rounds of .30-caliber 
and .50-caliber ammunition during the at- 
tack. They probably did the enemy a great 
deal of damage, but their accuracy left much 
to be desired. A stick of four bombs was 
dropped within fifty yards of a bivouac area 
occupied by the 127th Infantry, and a chap- 
lain visiting the troops at Buna Village was 
hit by bullets meant for the Japanese at 
Giropa Point. 5 

At 0730 Colonel McCreary's mortars, 
which were so disposed that they could drop 
their shells on any point in the Triangle, 
began firing their preparation. Fifteen min- 
utes later Companies E and G attacked 
straight south under cover of a rolling mor- 
tar barrage. The barrage did the attacking 
troops little good. They were stopped by 
enemy crossfire just after they left the line 
of departure. In the forefront of the attack, 
Captain Boicc did everything he could to 
get things moving again, but the crossfire 
proved impenetrable. Every attempt by the 
troops to slip through it only added to the 
toll of casualties. At 0945 Boice was mor- 
tally wounded by mortar fire and died 
shortly afterward. He was succeeded as bat- 
talion commander by Capt. John J. Sulli- 
van, who had just come up from the rear 
with a handful of replacements. 8 

c Tel Msg, Col Bradley to Col Howe, Ser 3771, 
20 Dec 42; Allied Air Forces Opns Rpts, 19 Dec 
42, 20 Dec 42, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Ltr, Gen 
Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 22 Dec 42, copy in 
OCMH files. 

"Tel Msg, Urbana Force to 32d Div, Ser 3700, 
19 Dec 42; 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jn], 0715, 0745, 0945, 
1250, 19 Dec 42; 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 20, 19 Dec 42; 
Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 19 Dec 
42, copy in OCMH files; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 
29. Captain Boice, who was at the very head of his 
troops when he met his death, was posthumously 
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The cita- 
tion is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 3, 6 Jan 43. 



On General Eichelberger 's orders the 
mortars laid down a concentration of white 
phosphorous smoke in the Triangle at 1415, 
and the attack was resumed. The troops 
gained a few yards with the help of the 
smoke, but were again stopped by enemy 
crossfire. At 1600 a third attack was 
mounted. This time the mortars fired a 700- 
round preparation — some forty rounds per 
mortar — but the result was the same; the 
men found it impossible to break through 
the murderous enemy crossfire. When night 
fell and the utterly spent troops dug in, they 
had lost forty killed and wounded out of the 
107 men who had begun the attack. 7 

Obviously in no condition to continue the 
attack, the two companies were relieved 
early the following morning by Company 
E, 127th Infantry, and went into reserve 
with the rest of the 2d Battalion, 126th 
Infantry. Except for Company F, which 
continued for the time being at the tip of 
the Triangle, the troops in the Siwori Vil- 
lage— Tarakena area, the whole battalion, 
now 240 men all told, was in reserve. The 
main burden of operations henceforward 
would be on the 127th Infantry. 8 

The 127th Infantry 
Takes Over the Attack 

The attack on the Japanese positions in 
the Triangle was resumed on 20 December. 
The plan was prepared the night before. 
Since it provided for an artillery prepara- 



7 Tel Msg, Urbana Force to 32d Div, Ser 3700, 19 
Dec 42; 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 0715, 0730, 0745, 
0945, 1250, 1600, 19 Dec 42; 126th Inf Jnl, Ser 35, 

19 Dec 42; Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Suther- 
land, 19 Dec 42; 126th Inf CT AAR, Papuan 
Campaign. 

8 32d Div Sitrep, No. Ill, 19 Dec 42; 2d Bn, 
126th Inf, Jnl, 0200, 0700, 1700, 20 Dec 42; 126th 
Inf Jnl, Ser 20, 20 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 

20 Dec 42. 



286 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



tion, safeguards were taken to ensure that 
the artillery did not hit the attacking troops. 
Company E, 127th Infantry, which was to 
deliver the blow was ordered into the Coco- 
nut Grove at daybreak. Its instructions were 
to remain there under cover until ordered 
across the creek, over which a second foot- 
bridge had been built a short distance from 
the first. Company F, 126th Infantry, still 
in place below the Triangle, was ordered 
to pull back about 300 yards in order to per- 
mit the artillery to use the track junction as 
its registration point. 

After registering on the junction, the 
Manning battery of 25 -pounders and the 
105 -mm, howitzer, both using smoke, were 
to fire on the enemy positions in the track 
junction for five minutes at the rate of two 
rounds per gun per minute. A second five- 
minute preparation was to follow at a some- 
what faster rate. As soon as the registration 
was over and the first five-minute prepara- 
tion began, Company E, covered by smoke 
from the artillery and the mortars, would 
dash across the two bridges, form up on the 
east bank of the stream at a position south of 
the original crossing, and wait out the artil- 
lery fire there. When the artillery fire ceased, 
the mortars, firing a salvo every minute, 
were to place a concentration of forty rounds 
of white phosphorus on the target. When 
the first smoke shell from the mortars went 
down, Company E was to rush forward, get 
within close range of the bunkers under 
cover of the smoke, and clear out the enemy 
with hand grenades. 11 

The artillery registered in at 0845. As soon 
as it began firing its first preparation, the 
troops dashed across the creek "in a cloud of 

' Tel Msg, Col Bowen to Col Tomlinson, Ser 371 1, 
19 Dec 42; 126th Inf Jnl, Ser 36, 19 Dec 42. 



smoke." Though General Eichelberger con- 
fessed to General Sutherland that night that 
he had been very much worried that some of 
them might be hit, "as this is very thick coun- 
try and our troops are in close to the junc- 
tion," not a man was hit by the artillery. Just 
as everything seemed to be going well, some 
"trigger-happy' - machine gunners on the 
west bank of the creek, to the rear of the line 
of departure, spoiled everything by opening 
fire prematurely. This unauthorized firing 
from the rear threw the inexperienced troops 
along the line of departure into great confu- 
sion. When the troops finally attacked at 
1 000, they found the enemy alert and ready 
for them. In an hour and a half of action 
Company E was unable to get within even 
grenade distance of the enemy. 10 

The attack was called off at 1 130. Capt. 
James L. Alford, the company commander, 
thereupon proposed a new attempt. Alford's 
proposal was that a reinforced platoon, led 
by 1st Lt. Paul W'hittaker, with 2d Lt. 
Donald W. Feury as second-in-command, 
infiltrate the low-lying area in the center of 
the Triangle with the help of fire from the 
rest of the company. W r hen the platoon was 
as close as it could get to the enemy bunkers, 
it would charge and clean them out with 
hand grenades. Colonel Tomlinson sanc- 
tioned the plan, but General Eichelberger, 
who was present, vetoed it immediately as 
reckless and likely only to cause useless cas- 
ualties. On Captain Alford's assurance that 
the two lieutenants and the men who were 
to make the attack were confident of its 
success, the general let the attack proceed. 11 



10 126th Inf Jnl, Ser 2, 20 Dec 42; Ltr, Gen 
Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 20 Dec 42, copy 
in OCMH files; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 20 Dec 42. 

" 127th Inf Tact Hist, 20 Dec 42. 



URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 



287 




127TH REGIMEN TAL HEADQUARTERS COMMAND POST. Colonel Grose, 
seated, studies plans for the next attack. 



General Eichelberger's original misgivings 
were quickly justified. With S.Sgt. John F. 
Rehak, Jr., leading the way, the platoon 
managed to get within grenade distance of 
the bunkers and charged. The Japanese had 
meanwhile pulled out of the bunkers ap- 
parently in anticipation of just such a move. 
They caught the platoon with enfilading fire 
and nearly wiped it out with a few bursts of 
their automatic weapons. Seven men, in- 
cluding Lieutenant Feury, Lieutenant Whit- 
taker, and Sergeant Rehak, were killed, and 
twenty were wounded. The two attacks had 
gained nothing, and they had cost Company 
E thirty-nine casualties — better than 40 per- 



cent of its strength — in its first day ol 
combat. 13 

Colonel Tomlinson called off the attack 
at 1335, and a badly rattled Company E 
spent, the next few hours getting its dead and 
wounded out of the Triangle — a perilous 
business because the Japanese, taking full 
advantage of the situation, were laying down 
heavy fire on the rescue parties. When the 

12 126th Inf Jnl, Ser 13, 20 Dec 42; Ltr, Gen 
Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 20 Dec 42; 127th 
Inf Tact Hist, 20 Dec 42. Rehak was posthumously 
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and the 
two lieutenants, the Silver Star. Rehak's citation is 
in GHQ SWPA GO No. 4, 10 Jan 43; Feury's and 
Whittaker's in GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43. 



288 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



job was done, the company, less outposts in 
the mouth of the Triangle, withdrew to the 
Coconut Grove where the men were made as 
comfortable as the circumstances would 
permit. 13 

At 1410 Colonel Tomlinson, who was 
physically exhausted, suggested to Colonel 
Grose that he take over command of Urbana 
Force inasmuch as the 127th Infantry now 
made up the great bulk of the troops in 
the line. Grose's reply was that it was not 
within his authority to assume command. 
He told Tomlinson that he could take over 
only if ordered to do so by General Eichel- 
berger. At 1522 Tomlinson called Eichel- 
berger and asked to be relieved of command 
of Urbana Force. Realizing that Tomlinson 
had been under strain for too long a time, 
General Eichelberger relieved him at once 
and ordered Colonel Grose to take his place. 
Grose assumed command of Urbana Force 
at 1700, and all elements of the 127th In- 
fantry not already there were immediately 
ordered to the front. 14 

The Attack Moves North 
The Plan To Bypass the Triangle 

It had become perfectly clear by this time 
that the reduction of the Triangle would 
be an extremely difficult task. Not only did 
the troops have no room to maneuver, but 
the enemy's fire permitted not a single man 



13 126 th Inf Jnl, Sers 8, 9, 13, 18, 20 Dec 42; 
127th Inf Tact Hist, 20 Dec 42. 

"126th Inf Jnl, Sers 17, 21, 20 Dec 42; 127th 
Inf Jnl, 1700, 20 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 20 
Dec 42. Though no longer commander of Urbana 
Force, Tomlinson continued as commander of the 
126th Infantry. Reporting the change to General 
Sutherland that night, General Eichelberger wrote, 
"I am going to bring Tomlinson in here for a day 
or so to rest him up." Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen 
Sutherland, 20 Dec 42. 



to get through alive. It became a question 
therefore of whether it might not be wiser 
to break off the fight and try to find a better 
line of departure elsewhere for the projected 
drive across the gardens to the coast. 15 

General Eichelberger had made such a 
suggestion to General Herring on 19 De- 
cember. Herring saw the point and author- 
ized Eichelberger to bypass the Triangle if 
the next day's attack upon it also failed. 16 

When the attempt on the 20th did fail, 
General Eichelberger began immediately to 
plan for a new axis of attack across the 
gardens. As he explained the situation to 
General Sutherland that night: "General 
Herring is very anxious for me to take the 
track junction, and I am most willing, but 
the enemy is . . . strong there and is able 
to reinforce his position at will. I am going 
to pour in artillery on him . . . and I am 
going to continue that tomorrow morning. 
Then I am going to find a weak spot across 
Government Gardens." 17 

The next morning General Eichelberger 
ordered Company E, 127th Infantry, to 
contain the Triangle from the north and 
Company F, 126th Infantry, to continue 
blocking it from the south. He then tried a 
ruse to lead the Japanese into believing that 
another infantry attack cn the Triangle was 
imminent. To that end, the program of ar- 
tillery and mortar fire executed the day be- 
fore was repeated exactly. There were the 
same five-minute intervals of artillery fire 
and the same salvos of smoke from the mor- 



r " Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 20 
Dec 42; Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 26 Apr 50. 

™ Tel Msg, Brig Hopkins to Col Bowen, Ser 3791, 
20 Dec 42 ; Msg,' Adv NGF to CG Buna Force, Ser 
3808, 20 Dee 42, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; Ltr, Gen 
Eichelberger to Gen MacArthur, 26 Dec 42, copy 
in OCMH files. 

17 Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 20 
Dec 42. 



URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 



289 



tars. Company E dashed across the bridge 
at exactly the same time and in exactly the 
same way as the day before, and, as the first 
smoke shell went down, the men fixed bayo- 
nets as if to attack, and cheered loudly for 
two minutes. The Japanese had pulled out 
of their bunkers as usual and were in their 
trenches braced for the expected infantry 
charge. This time, however, there was no 
attack. Instead, the infantrymen held their 
positions and the artillery and mortars 
poured everything they had into the smoke- 
enveloped track junction. 18 

General Eichelberger reported that eve- 
ning that he was sure he had killed a large 
number of the enemy with his "phony at- 
tack of artillery and smoke followed by the 
fixing of bayonets and a cheer." But he had 
to admit that despite all the artillery and 
mortar fire that had been laid down on the 
Japanese positions in the Triangle, and the 
heavy losses that had been sustained in try- 
ing to take it, "our attempts to get the road 
junction have all failed." 19 The failure to 
take the Triangle was no great setback since 
General Eichelberger had already decided 
upon a more promising axis of attack across 
Entrance Creek in the area north of the 
Coconut Grove and the Triangle, 

The Crossing of Entrance Creek 

Where to establish the initial bridgehead 
on the other side of the creek was the prob- 
lem. After studying available maps, Gen- 
eral Eichelberger concluded that the best 
place for it lay in a fringe of woods just off 
the northwest end of the gardens where 

18 Tel Msg, Col Bowen to Col Grose, Ser 3793, 20 
Dec 42; Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 
21 Dec 42, copy in OCMH files; 127th Inf Tact 
Hist, 22 Dec 42. 

"Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 21 
Dec 42. 



there seemed to be better cover and less 
enemy fire than elsewhere. He therefore 
issued orders late on the night of 20-2 1 De- 
cember that the bridgehead be established 
there the next day. 20 

Colonel Grose chose Companies I and K 
for the task and early the next morning 
began to make his dispositions for the cross- 
ing. He ordered Company L to move from 
its position below the island to the right of 
Company I, which was already deployed in 
the area immediately north of the Coconut 
Grove. Company K, which had previously 
been to the rear of Company I, was ordered 
to go in on Company L's left and to extend 
along the west bank of the creek almost to 
its mouth. The move brought Company K 
directly across the creek from the prescribed 
bridgehead area and in position to cross. 21 

From the beginning it was recognized 
that Company K's crossing would be more 
difficult than Company l's. The swift tidal 
stream that had to be crossed was less than 
twenty-five yards wide in Company l's sec- 
tor, and the engineers had only that morning 
finished building a small footbridge there 
improvised from a few saplings and a cap- 
tured enemy boat anchored in the center of 
the stream. In Company K's sector, on the 
other hand, the creek was at least fifty yards 
wide at the point of crossing and seven or 
eight feet deep. Colonel Grose went down to 
Company K's sector to look things over and 
did not like what he saw. Thinking that 
there was a possibility that Company K, 
crossing in Company l's sector, might be 



20 Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 20 
Dec 42 ; 127th Inf Jnl, 0800, 21 Dec 42 ; Interv with 
Col Grose, 15 Nov 50; Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to 
author, 15 Jan 52. 

* 127th Inf Jnl, 0800, 21 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact 
Hist, 21 Dec 42; Ltr, Gol Grose to Gen Ward, 26 
Feb 51; Ltr, [Capt] Alfred E. Meyer to author, 13 
Mar 51. 



290 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



able to work its way under the bank to the 
bridgehead area and establish itself there, 
he telephoned General Eichelberger and 
asked for more time. In the heat of the 
moment, he apparently failed to make clear 
to the general the reason for his request. In 
any event, Grose recalls, Eichelberger was 
impatient of any suggestion for postpone- 
ment. He refused to give him more time, 
and Grose at once called in Capt. Alfred E. 
Meyer, the Company K commander, and 
ordered him to proceed with the crossing. 22 

At 1 600 that afternoon Meyer sent troops 
into the creek to see if it could be forded. 
Not only could they find no crossing; they 
were nearly "blown out of the water" by 
enemy fire from the other side of the stream. 
Greatly perturbed at being ordered to make 
what he considered a suicidal crossing, 
Meyer pleaded with Grose to let him cross 
over the bridge in Company I's area. If 
that permission was impossible to grant, 
Meyer requested that he be allowed to cross 
at night with the aid of ropes, pontons, or 
whatever equipment was available. Colonel 
Grose, who had already asked for more time 
without being able to get it, told Meyer that 
he was to start crossing immediately even if 
the men had to swim across. 23 

Captain Meyer went back to his company 
and made several attempts to get men 
across in daylight, but the enemy fire from 
the other side of the creek proved too heavy. 
By nightfall the company finally located a 
heavy rope, and the attempts to cross were 
renewed. 



22 Col Grose's Diary, 21 Dec 42; Intervs with Col 
Grose, 15 Nov 50, 1 Feb 51 ; Ltr, Gen Eichelberger 
to author, 15 Jan 52. 

23 Ltr, Capt Meyer to author, 13 Mar 51; Interv 
with Col Grose, 18 Nov 50; Ltr, Col Grose to Gen 
Ward, 2 Feb 51. 



Unbidden, 1st Lt. Edward M. Greene, 
Jr., picked up one end of the rope, and with 
several enlisted men started swimming for 
the opposite shore. Greene was killed almost 
instantly by enemy fire, and his body was 
swept away by the current. A few minutes 
later one of the enlisted men lost his hold on 
the rope and was swept away. One of the 
swimmers finally got the rope across the 
river, and the rest of the night was spent in 
getting the heavily weighted troops over in 
the face of the continuing enemy fire. By 
about 0200 forty -seven men were on the 
other side of the creek, and when daylight 
came the total was seventy-five. Company K 
suffered fifty-four casualties that night — six 
killed or drowned in the crossing, and eight 
killed and forty wounded in the fighting at 
the bridgehead area. 

Early on the morning of 22 December, 
while Company K engaged the enemy 
frontally in the bridgehead area and Com- 
pany M's heavy weapons covered it with 
fire from the west bank, Company I, under 
Capt. Michael F. Ustruck, crossed on the 
footbridge. Finding, as Colonel Grose had 
surmised, that there was a safe and easy ap- 
proach to the bridgehead under the bank, 
the company went into position on Com- 
pany K's right by 1235 without losing a 
man. 24 

Bodies of troops of Company K who had 
been drowned in the crossing on the night 
of 21-22 December were to be seen the next 
day bobbing in the stream, 25 but the cross- 



" 127th Inf Jnl, 2130, 21 Dec 42, 0630, 22 Dec 
42; 127th Inf Tart Hist, 22 Dec 42; Tel Conv, Col 
Bowen with Col Grose, Ser 3911, 22 Dec 42; Col 
Grose's Diary, 22 Dec 42; Interv with Col Grose, 
15 Nov 50: Ltr, Meyer to author, 13 Mar 51. 

25 Ltr, Maj Robert P. McCampbell to author, 18 
Jan 51; "A Case History," Time, 4 Dec 44, p. 68. 



URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 



291 



ing had been accomplished, and there was 
a strong bridgehead on the other side of the 
creek. It had been a difficult and frustrat- 
ing operation. As General Eichelberger put 
it two days later, "When we put K Com- 
pany across an unfordable stream in the 
dark against heavy fire the other night we 
did something that would be a Leaven- 
worth nightmare." 26 

The Subsidiary Operations 

The Situation on the Left Flank 

While these operations were progressing, 
there had been a flurry of activity on the 
left flank. On 18 and 19 December the 
Schwartz patrol had clashed with enemy 
patrols west of Siwori Village. On 20 De- 
cember, upon the insistence of General 
Herring that the left flank be better secured, 
Schwartz was reinforced with another 
twenty men of the 2d Battalion, 126th In- 
fantry, which was in reserve at the time 
below Buna Village. Schwartz's force, now 
numbering thirty-five, began moving on its 
objective, Tarakena, a small village on the 
west bank of Konombi Creek, about a mile 
northwest of Siwori Village. 

The men reached Tarakena early on 20 
December, only to be thrown out of the 
place by a superior Japanese force. Col. 
Frank S. Bowcn, Jr., G-3, Buna Force, 
immediately ordered forward another mixed 
unit of thirty-two men from the 2d Bat- 
talion, 1 26th Infantry. Schwartz got the 
reinforcements late in the afternoon and 
moved on Tarakena at dusk with his sixty- 



M Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 24 
Dec 42, copy in OCMH files. The reference is to the 
Command and General Staff College at Fort Leav- 
enworth, Kansas. 



seven men to stage, as he said, "a heckling 
party" for the enemy's benefit.' - " 

The patrol succeeded in retaking a corner 
of the village during the night, but the 
enemy, much stronger than had been antici- 
pated, counterattacked and forced it back 
across the creek. The patrol suffered fifteen 
casualties during the encounter, including 
Schwartz who was wounded. Command of 
the patrol fell to 1st Lt. James R. Griffith. 
He was wounded the same afternoon, and 
1st Lt. Louis A. Chagnon of Headquarters 
Company, 127th Infantry, took over, bring- 
ing with him members of Headquarters 
Company and the Service Company. Since 
he was obviously outnumbered, Chagnon 
took up a defensive position a few hundred 
yards southeast of Tarakena and awaited the 
enemy's next move. 1 '" 

The Capture of the Island 

By 22 December the engineers, meeting 
no enemy interference, had repaired the 
south bridge between the mainland and the 
island. That afternoon, as soon as the bridge 
was down, a patrol of Company L, 127th 
Infantry, moved over it and crossed the 
island without opposition. As the men 
approached the north bridge between the 
island and the mission, they began receiving 
heavy fire. Two platoons of Company F 



" Tel Msg, Urbana Force to G-3 32d Div, Ser 
3577, 18 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Col Howe to Col Bowen, 
Ser 3647, 19 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Brig R. N. L. Hop- 
kins, CofS, Adv NGF, to Col Bowcn, Ser 3791, 20 
Dec 42; Msg, Adv NGF to Buna Force, Ser 3808, 
20 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Urbana Force to G-3 Buna 
Force, Ser 3837, 20 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Col Grose to 
Col Howe, Ser 3833, 21 Dec 42; 127th Inf Jnl, 
0815, 1550, 21 Dec 42. 

! *2d Bn, 1 26th Inf, Jnl, 22 Dec 42; 127th Inf 
Jnl, 0800, 0940, 0945, 1805, 2010, 2020, 22 Dec, 42, 
0800, 23 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 22 Dec 42, 
23 Dec 42. 



292 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




FOOTBRIDGE OVER ENTRANCE CREEK to Musita Island. 



and a machine gun section of Company M, 
under Lt. Col. Benjamin R. Farrar, then 
serving as S-3 of the 127th Infantry, moved 
in to meet the situation. By 1115 the next 
morning, the last Japanese to be found on 
the island had been overcome, and Com- 
pany F, its work done, pulled back to the 
mainland. 

Company H thereupon moved onto the 
island, bringing with it, in addition to its 
heavy weapons, a 37-mm. gun "with plenty 
of canister." A platoon of Company E, 127th 
Infantry, on the village spit (the small pen- 
insula east of Buna Village) also had a 37- 
mm, gun firing canister. From their separate 
points of vantage the two units began bring- 



ing down close-in harassing fire on the 
mission and continued to do so day and 
night. 29 

Now that the island had fallen, General 
Eichelberger had a new axis of advance for 
an attack on the mission. All that remained 
was to get troops across the north bridge 
between the island and the mission and to 
establish a beachhead on the opposite shore. 
"Maybe I can get a toehold there," General 
Eichelberger mused in a letter to General 
Sutherland. "It might prove easier," he 



"Tel Msg, Col Bradley to Col Howe, Sers 3942, 
3945, 22 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Col Howe to Col Grose, 
Ser 3949, 22 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 22 Dec 
42; 127th Inf Jnl, 1015, 23 Dec 42. 



URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 



293 



added, "than where I now plan to go 

across. 

The Corridor to the Coast 
The Attack in the Gardens 

On the evening of 23 December, with the 
bridgehead at the northwest end of Govern- 
ment Gardens firmly secured, General 
Eichelberger ordered Colonel Grose to at- 
tack in an easterly direction across the gar- 
dens the following morning. Grose had five 
companies of the 127th Infantry for the 
attack. The plan called for the 3d Battalion 
rifle units to launch the attack, supported by 
the heavy weapons crews of Company M 
disposed along Entrance Creek to the rear 
of the line of departure, with some of the 
men in trees. Company G would be in re- 
serve and would go into action upon orders 
from Colonel Grose. 

There would be no direct air support 
because the troops were too close to the en- 
emy. The artillery at Ango and Colonel 
McCreary's massed mortars south of the 
island were to lay down a heavy preparation 
before the troops jumped off, and were to 
follow it with a rolling barrage when the 
advance got under way. The troops on the 
island and on the village spit would make a 
maximum effort to saturate the mission with 
fire, in order to deceive the enemy as to 
the direction of the attack and to prevent 
the reinforcement of his positions in the 
gardens;" 

The troops on the Island and on the vil- 



M Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 22 
Dec 42. 

31 Ltrs, Gen Eichelberger to Gen MacArthur, 23 
Dec 42, 24 Dec 42, copies in OCMH files; 127th Inf 
Tact Hist, 23 Dec 42, 24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Jnl, 
0956, 24 Dec 42 ; Ltr, Col Grose to Gen Ward, 26 
Feb 51. 



lage spit laid down heavy fire on the mission 
during the night, as did the 25-pounders 
and the 105-mm. howitzer at Ango. The 
Japanese, in turn, kept the bridgehead 
under continual harassment, using moun- 
tain guns, heavy mortars, and antiaircraft 
guns depressed for flat-trajectory fire. All 
along the line of departure the companies 
remained on the alert throughout the night, 
but the Japanese made no move either to 
counterattack or to infiltrate the American 
lines. 

At dawn of 24 December Company G 
crossed the creek, and the heavy weapons 
crew of Company M took up supporting 
positions along the bank of the stream. 
Company L replaced Company I on the 
left, Company I extended to the right, and 
Company K, shaken by its experience of 
the night before, went into reserve. Shortly 
thereafter, the two assault companies, I 
and L, each reinforced by weapons crews 
of Company M, moved into position along 
the line of departure. At 0600 the artillery 
and mortars began firing their preparation, 
and Company H on the island opened up 
on the mission with all its weapons. Covered 
by the rolling barrage, the troops jumped off 
fifteen minutes later on a 400-yard front. 32 

The drive across the gardens to the sea 
had about 800 yards to go. Neglected and 
overgrown with thick clumps of shoulder- 
high kunai grass, the gardens extended for 
some 400 yards to a swamp about 1 00 yards 
wide. On the other side of the swamp, look- 
ing out on the sea, was a coconut plantation, 
about 300 yards across, through which ran 



32 127th Inf Tact Hist, 23 Dec 42, 24 Dec 42; 
127th Inf Jnl, 0956, 24 Dec 42; G-3 Sitrep Buna 
Force, 23 Dec 42; 32d Div Sitrep No. 121, 24 Dec 
42; Ltrs, Gen Eichelberger to Gen MacArthur, 24 
Dec 42, 25 Dec 42, copies in OCMH files; Rpt, 
CG Buna Forces, p. 31. 



294 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



the coastal track between Buna Mission and 
Giro pa Point. 

Captain Yasuda had the area well pre- 
pared for defense and could cover nearly 
every foot of it with both observed and un- 
observed fire. The track through the gardens 
was covered by bunkers, and on either side 
of it, echeloned in depth to the rear and 
hidden by the kunai grass, were numerous 
individual foxholes and firing pits, most of 
them with overhead cover. In the surround- 
ing swamp, north and east of the gardens, 
were strong bunker positions, and even 
stronger fortifications were to be found in 
the plantation and along the shore. 33 

For an attacking force, the gardens would 
have presented great difficulties even had 
there been no bunkers. One who was there 
recalls the situation in these words : 

There was very little cover on the eastward 
side of Entrance Creek which forced troops to 
be heavily bunched during the staging period 
of an attack. The gardens themselves were 
very flat, covered by a substantial growth of 
Kunai grass, and accordingly provided excel- 
lent cover for the Japanese as well as a good 
field of fire. The surrounding swamp areas 
were infested with snipers in trees. All of 
which made operations across the Govern- 
ment Gardens a very difficult maneuver. 34 

As the two companies left the line of de- 
parture and began moving through the 
kunai grass they were met by heavy fire and 
both were held up. The fire was particularly 
heavy on Company I's front. The company 
cleaned out an isolated enemy bunker just 
forward of the line of departure, but its at- 
tempts to infiltrate and knock out a main 
Japanese strongpoint immediately to the 
rear met with no success whatever. Making 



33 32d Div Overlay, 24 Dec 42, in 32d Div Over- 
lays, Papuan Campaign; Buna Defense Plan, Japa- 
nese, in Rpt, CG Buna Forces; Interv with General 
Eichelbergcr, 26 Apr 50; Ltr, Col Gordon B. Rogers 
to author, 26 Jun 50. 

"Ltr, Maj McCampbell to author, 26 Aug 50. 



full use of the many hidden positions at 
their disposal, the Japanese successfully 
countered the unit's every attempt to move 
forward. 35 

The fighting was bitter and at close 
quarters. While the company was pinned 
down in front of the strongpoint, its 1st 
sergeant, Elmer J. Burr, saw an enemy 
grenade strike close to Captain Ustruck, who 
was out in front with his men. The sergeant 
threw himself on the grenade and smothered 
the explosion with his body. Burr was post- 
humously awarded the Medal of Honor — 
the first man to receive the award during 
the campaign. 36 

Though Colonel Grose had a temporary 
forward CP close to the line of departure — 
so close in fact that Colonel Farrar was 
wounded that morning by small arms fire 
while in the CP area — he could not see why 
Company I was not moving forward. Maj. 
Harold M. Hootman, the regimental S-4, 
who was in the CP with him, asked permis- 
sion to go to Company I and try to find out 
what was happening. Grose recalls that he 
was "a bit flabbergasted" at the request, 
"because it seemed to be the desire of so 
many to find a good reason for going to the 
rear," but he gave Hootman permission to 
go and asked him to report his findings to 
him when he got back. That was the last 
time he saw the man alive. Hootman's body 

sr, G-3 Sitrep, Buna Force, 23-24 Dec; Tel Msg, 
Urbana Force to G 3 Buna Force, Ser 4112, 24 
Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 24 Dec 42. 

M WD GO No. 66, 1 1 Oct 43. On the same day, 
24 December 1942, another member of the com- 
pany, Pfc. Albert L. Fisher, who had been evacu- 
ated for treatment of his wounds to a point just 
behind the front line, saw two men of his unit lying 
wounded in an area swept by enemy fire. Disregard- 
ing his wounds and the continuing enemy fire, Fisher 
crawled into the open and dragged both men to 
safety. He was later awarded the Distinguished 
Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO 
No. 36, 1 Jul 43. 



URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 



295 




JAPANESE- BUILT BRIDGE to Buna Mission over Entrance Creek. 



was later recovered, rifle in hand, not far 
from a Japanese bunker under circum- 
stances which suggested that he fell while 
trying to take itsinglehanded. 37 

Hootman had scarcely left the CP when 
news came back that Company I had suf- 
fered heavy casualties and become disor- 
ganized. Colonel Grose finally went out to 
the company himself and what he saw con- 
firmed the news. He ordered the unit to the 
rear to reorganize and, at 0950, sent in 

31 127th Inf Jnl, 0610, 24 Dec 42: Col Grose's 
Diary, 24 Dec 42; Ltr, Col Grose to Gen Ward, 26 
Feb 51. 



Company G in its place. Within the hour, 
Company G reported that the enemy had 
been cleared out of a three-bunker strong- 
point which had previously held up the ad- 
vance. Despite this promising start, Com- 
pany G did not get much farther that day. 
Setting up his command post in the most 
forward of the captured bunkers, the 
company commander, Capt. William H. 
Dames, continued with the task of rooting 
the enemy out of his remaining bunker po- 
sitions. Under an unusually aggressive com- 
mander, the fresh company cut through to 
the track and straddled it but, try as it 



296 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



would, could not move forward immedi- 
ately because of the intense fire from the 
enemy's hidden bunker positions. 38 

The real disappointment of the day, how- 
ever, came on the far left, where Company 
L was to have made the main penetration. 
Under 1st Lt. Marcelles P. Fahres, Captain 
Wentland's successor, Company L was 
given all the aid that was available. The 
automatic weapons of Company M along 
Entrance Creek fired heavily in its support, 
as did the massed 81 -mm. mortars south of 
the island, first under Colonel McCreary, 
and when McCreary was wounded that 
day, under Col. Horace Harding, General 
Eichelberger's artillery officer who was act- 
ing as division artillery commander. Never- 
theless, the company, after making small 
initial gains, did not move forward. 39 

38 Tel Msgs, Col Bradley to Col Howe, Ser No. 
4088, 24 Dec 42, Ser 4090, 24 Dec 42, Ser 4093, 24 
Dec 42, Ser 4099, 24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Jnl, 0950, 
24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 24 Dec 42. Eichei- 
berger, Oar Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 42. Actually 
it was a sergeant from Company I, Sgt. Francis J. 
Vondracek, with the help of members of Company 
G, who cleared out the strongpoint. When Company 
G took over from Company I, Vondracek, an acting 
platoon leader of Company I, remained behind at 
his own request. Covered by rifle fire from Company 
G, he knocked out the three bunkers in quick suc- 
cession by flinging hand grenades through their 
firing apertures. Vondracek was later awarded the 
Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq 
USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43. 

3 "Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 31; 127th Inf Tact 
Hist, 24 Dec 42. Colonel McCreary directed the fire 
of the mortars personally most of the day from a 
coconut tree about fifty yards from the enemy 
lines — the only good observation post he could find. 
Though wounded in the back by a shell fragment, 
he strapped himself in his tree and continued to 
direct the mortars until he lapsed into unconscious- 
ness from loss of blood and had to be evacuated. 
Colonel Harding, who was at the front inspecting 
the artillery, thereupon took over direction of the 
mortar fire using the same tree Colonel McCreary 
had just vacated. Both colonels were later awarded 
the Distinguished Service Cross. McCreary's citation 
is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 2, 2 Jan 43; Harding's, 
in GO No. 4, 10 Jan 43. 



Aware of the situation, Colonel Grose at 
1 028 ordered a platoon of twenty men from 
Company A to cross over to the mission 
from the island by way of the north bridge 
and hold there as long as possible. The Jap- 
anese were so busy in the gardens that the 
troops actually got across the bridge, which 
though rickety was still standing. Unop- 
posed at first, the platoon was soon set upon 
by the Japanese, who killed eight of its mem- 
bers and forced the rest back across the 
bridge. 40 

The diversion appears to have succeeded 
better than was at first realized. Captain 
Yasuda's troops by this time were spread 
thin, and he was apparently forced to trans- 
fer troops from the strongpoint at the north- 
west end of the gardens to the mission in 
order to meet the new threat there. Feeling 
the pressure upon it ease, Company L's left 
platoon, under 2d Lts. Fred W. Matz and 
Charles A. Middendorf, began pushing 
ahead. Meeting little opposition, the platoon 
started racing forward alone through the tall 
grass, unnoticed by the rest of the company. 
The company commander did not see the 
men go and did not miss them until some 
time later. Within a short while, the platoon 
was through the gardens and on the out- 
skirts of the Coconut Plantation. There the 
men ran into two well-manned enemy bunk- 

™ 127th Inf Jnl, 1028, 1430, 1442, 24 Dec 42; 
Interv with Col Grose, 15 Nov 50; Ltr, Col Grose to 
Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51. Neither Colonel Grose nor 
General Eichelberger knew of his presence, but Brig. 
Gen. Spencer B. Akin, General MacArthur's signal 
officer, was on the island for a few minutes during 
the forenoon. Before he left, he saw American troops 
walking erect in the mission area. Shortly thereafter, 
General Eichelberger began receiving congratula- 
tions on having taken the mission. Exceedingly 
wroth, Eichelberger not only refused to accept the 
congratulations but demanded an immediate ex- 
planation of the matter from Colonel Grose, who, 
until he learned that General Akin had been present 
on the island, was at a loss to understand what Gen- 
eral Eichelberger was talking about. 



URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 



297 



ers which stood directly in the way of their 
advance. Sgt. Kenneth E. Gruennert, in the 
lead, undertook to knock them out. Covered 
by fire from the rest of the platoon, he 
crawled forward alone against the first 
bunker and killed everyone in it by throwing 
grenades through one of its firing slits. 
Although severely wounded in the shoulder 
while doing so, Gruennert refused to return 
to the rear. He bandaged the wound him- 
self and moved out against the second 
bunker. Hurling his grenades with great pre- 
cision despite his bad shoulder, Gruennert 
forced the enemy out of the second bunker 
as well but was himself shot down by an 
enemy sniper. Gruennert was posthumously 
awarded the Medal of Honor — the second 
to be conferred on a 127th Infantry soldier 
for the day's action. 41 

Completely out of touch with its company 
and the rest of Urbana Force the platoon 
consolidated and pushed on. By noon it was 
within sight of the sea, and there its troubles 
really began. The Japanese started closing 
in, and the artillery at Ango, unaware that 
friendly troops were so far forward, shelled 
the area with great thoroughness, killing 
Lieutenant Middendorf and wounding 
Lieutenant Matz slightly. 

One of the eight men left with Matz was 
badly wounded and unable to march. The 
lieutenant decided to stay with him and 
ordered the rest of the troops to withdraw. 
They got back safely to their own lines two 



4i Tel Msg, Urbana Force to Col Bowen, Ser 
4112, 24 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Col Bradley to Col 
Bowen, Ser 4125,-24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 
24 Dec 42; Col Grose's Diary, 24 Dec 42; Ltr, Gen 
Eichclbcrger to Gen MacArthur, 25 Dec 42; Ltr, 
Col Grose to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51. Gruennert's 
citation for the Medal of Honor is in WD GO No. 
66, 1 1 Oct 43. 



days later after a difficult march, most of it 
through hip-deep swamp. Matz and the en- 
listed man, who would have died had the 
lieutenant not stayed with him, remained 
hidden behind the enemy lines until Urbana 
Force overran the area eight days later.' 12 

Colonel Grose did not learn of the pla- 
toon's break-through until just before noon 
when a runner got back with the news. He 
at once ordered Company I back into the 
line to the right of Company G and sent 
Company K to the far left with orders to go 
to the platoon's assistance. The company at- 
tacked in the direction it was believed the 
platoon had followed. Captain Yasuda had 
meanwhile plugged the hole in his defenses, 
and it was only after heavy fighting that 
1st Lt. Paul M. Krasne and eight men of the 
company finally broke through. They raced 
to the beach, found no trace of the Matz 
patrol, and promptly withdrew lest they be 
cut off. 

Seeing that the line did not move, Colonel 
Grose ordered Company F to attack on 
Company L's right at 1511. The result was 
the same. The line remained where it was 
and by evening was no more than 150 yards 
from the line of departure. 48 

Colonel Grose asked General Eichel- 
berger for time to reorganize but the re- 
quest was refused, and he was ordered 



41 Tel Msg, Col Bowen to 3 2d Div, Ser 4124, 24 
Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 24 Dec 42; 127th Inf 
Jnl, 1400, 26 Dec 42; Ltr, Meyer to author, 13 Mar 
51. Matz was later awarded the Distinguished Serv- 
ice Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 
34, 21 Jun 43. 

"Tel Msg, Col Bowen to Col Howe, Ser 4124, 
24 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Col Bradley to Col Bowen, 
Ser 4125, 24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 24 Dec 
42 ; Ltrs, Gen Eichelberger to Gen MacArthur, 24 
Dec 42, 25 Dec 42; Col Grose's Diary, 24 Dec 42; 
Interv with Col Grose, 18 Nov 50; Rpt, CG Buna 
Forces, p. 31. 



298 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



instead to resume the attack early Christmas 
morning. Eichelberger, who had been at the 
front all day, taking an active part in the 
conduct of operations, reported the refusal 
to General Mac Arthur the next day, adding 
in words charged with emotion, that seeing 
the attack fail had been the "all time low" 
of his life. 44 

The Attack on Christmas Day 

Colonel Grose now had eight companies 
of the 127th Infantry at the front — A, C, 
F, G, I, K, L, and M. His plan was to have 
Companies A and F attack on the far left 
and push through to the coast. Companies 
K and L, in the center of the line, would 
push forward in their sector in concert with 
the companies on the left. Companies I and 
G would concentrate on reducing the bunk- 
ers that covered the trail through the gardens 
and would be aided in that endeavor by a 
diversionary attack in the afternoon on the 
Japanese positions in the Triangle. Com- 
pany C would be in reserve. 

Companies A and F were to launch their 
attack on the far left without mortar or 
artillery preparation of any kind. Instead, 
there would first be the pretense of a full- 
scale attack on the mission from the island, 
in the hope that the enemy would weaken 
his dispositions in the gardens in order to 
meet the new threat. As soon as it became 
evident that the enemy had swallowed the 
bait, Companies A and F would suddenly 
attack in the gardens. It was hoped that the 
enemy would be taken completely by sur- 
prise by this maneuver. 45 



"Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen MacArthur, 25 
Dec 42. 



On Christmas morning, the mortars and 
artillery in a thunderous barrage gave the 
mission a thorough working over, and Com- 
pany H, on the island, made a great show 
of being about to attack the mission across 
the north bridge, a makeshift structure that 
miraculously still stood. At 1135, while the 
commotion on the island was at its height, 
Companies A and F attacked across the 
gardens without preparation of any kind. 
The ruse worked. Company A (less two 
platoons which had not yet arrived) was 
held up, but Company F, which had found 
it impossible to move forward the day be- 
fore, found the going relatively easy. Led 
by Capt. Byron B. Bradford, the company 
cut its way through the gardens and the 
swamp and reached the Coconut Plantation 
by 1345. Obviously caught off base, the 
Japanese rallied, surrounded the company, 
and began a counterattack. After beating 
off the attack with very heavy losses to it- 
self, the company established an all-around 
perimeter in a triangular cluster of shell 
holes just outside the plantation. The posi- 
tion was about 200 yards west of the track 
junction, about 250 from the sea, and 600 
from the mission. 

An advance detachment of Company A, 
under its commanding officer, Capt. Horace 
N. Harger, broke through to F's position at 
1620, but its weapons platoon was am- 
bushed and destroyed by the enemy just as 
it was on the point of going through. The 
rest of Company A reached the front late in 
the afternoon but was unable to get through. 
As night fell, its leading elements and those 
of Companies K and L were at least 350 



45 Tel Msg, Col Grose to Col Bowen, Ser 4146, 
24 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Col Bowen to Col Grose, Ser 
4148, 24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 25 Dec 42. 



URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 



299 



yards from the beleaguered companies near 
the coast. 46 

The diversionary attack on the enemy 
bunker positions in the Triangle to help 
Companies G and I on the right was 
mounted late in the afternoon. A platoon of 
Company E was to advance into the mouth 
of the Triangle and engage the enemy with 
fire while a platoon of Company C, with 
the support of heavy weapons crews of Com- 
pany D, launched the main effort from the 
south. Although the attack, led by Capt. 
James W. Workman, commanding officer 
of Company C, was carefully planned and 
prepared, it failed, as had all previous ef- 
forts to take this position. The attack was 
finally called off toward evening after Cap- 
tain Workman was killed while charging an 
enemy bunker at the head of his troops. 47 

For all its cost, the diversion had done 
little to ease the pressure on Companies G 
and I. After fighting hard all day, the two 
units had made only slight gains. The enemy 
bunkers were too well defended and too 
cleverly concealed. Captain Dames and 
Lieutenant Fahres tried digging saps toward 
them, but at the end of the day, the enemy 
bunkers still stood, seemingly as impregnable 
as ever. 48 



w Tel Msgs, Col Bradley to Col Howe, Ser 4205, 
25 Dec 42, Ser 4220, 25 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Col 
Grose to Col Howe, Ser 4228, 25 Dec 42; Tel Msg, 
Capt Stephen Hewitt, S-2, 1 2 7th Inf, to Maj 
Hawkins, G-2, 32d Div, Ser 4270, 26 Dec 42; 
127th Inf Jnl, 1110, 1130, 11.35, 25 Dec 42; 127th 
Inf Tact Hist, 26 Dec 42, 27 Dec 42; 32d Div 
Sitrep, No. 124, 25 Dec 42. 

■"Tel Msg, Col Bradley to 32d Div, Ser 4220, 25 
Dec 42 ; 32d Div Sitrep, No. 124, 25 Dec 42. Work- 
man was posthumously awarded the Distinguished 
Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO 
No. 32, 15 Jan 43. 

48 1 2 7th Inf Tact Hist, 25 Dec 42; 32d Div Over- 
lays, Papuan Campaign, 25 Dec 42; Col Grose's 
Diary, 25 Dec 42. 



Urbana Force had not been able to make 
contact with Companies A and F since 
morning because their radios were wet and 
would not work. Three men of Head- 
quarters Company, 127th Infantry — Pvt. 
Gordon W. Eoff, Pfc. William Balza, and 
Sgt. William Fale — distinguished themselves 
while attempting to get telephone wire for- 
ward, but all efforts to regain communica- 
tions with the two companies that day 
failed. 4 " 

Establishing the Corridor 

Late in the afternoon Colonel Grose re- 
disposed his command, in accordance with 
his practice of rotating "the units so that they 
could get out of the lines and have a few 
days rest." Pulling Companies I and K out 
of the line, he ordered Company C (less one 
platoon, which was holding the area below 
the Triangle) in on the far left. Company I 
returned to the other side of the creek, Com- 
pany K went into reserve, and Company L, 
extending itself to the right, tied in on Com- 
pany G's left. 50 



48 127th Inf Tact Hist, 25 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Col 
Bradley to Col Howe, Ser 4316, 26 Dec 42. Eoff, 
Balza, and Fale were later awarded the Distin- 
guished Service Cross. Eoff's citation is in Hq 
USAFFE GO No. 36, 1 Jul 42; Balza's in GO No. 
34, 21 Jun 43; F ale's, in GHQ SWPA GO No. 29, 
30 Mar 42. 

50 Ltr, Col Grose to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51 ; 3 2d 
Div Overlays, Papuan Campaign, 26 Dec 42. There 
were no facilities for resting the troops. "It was diffi- 
cult," Colonel Grose recalls, "to find a dry spot for 
this purpose, and since there were no tents or other 
shelter, the men were quite often wet from rain even 
when resting. The relief from the tensions of the 
front was a help. I found that this system worked, 
and continued to use it all the way through, despite 
the fact that there were those in the higher echelons 
who insisted that all the men needed was proper 
leadership." 



300 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Company C's instructions for 26 Decem- 
ber were to break through to the companies 
near the coast, and link up with them to 
form a corridor from Entrance Creek to the 
sea. Maj. Edmund R. Schroeder, com- 
mander of the 1st Battalion, who reported 
to Colonel Grose that evening, would take 
personal charge of the attack. 51 

Things went somewhat better on the 
26th. Assisted by Company I, Company G 
knocked out several bunkers on the right 
along the trail during the morning and be- 
gan working on those that remained. On 
the far left, however, the enemy was still 
resisting stubbornly, and Company G made 
no progress all morning. 

The Japanese were obviously reinforcing 
their positions north of the gardens directly 
from the mission. To discourage this ac- 
tivity, the artillery put down a ten-minute 
concentration on the southwest corner of 
the mission at noon that day. Major 
Schroeder ordered an element of Company 
G, split into patrols, into the swamp north 
of the gardens to deal with the Japanese 
there. The rest of the company, joined dur- 
ing the afternoon by Company B, com- 
manded by 1st Lt. John B. Lewis, continued 
to attack frontally. 52 

The attack made little progress, and it 
became apparent during the early after- 
noon that Company C was not going to 
break through. Colonel Grose ordered Colo- 
nel Bradley, now chief of staff of the 32d 
Division, to go to the beleaguered com- 



01 Tel Msgs, Col Bradley to 3 2d Div, Ser 4205, 25 
Dec 42, Ser 4220, 25 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Urbana 
Force to Col Bowen, Ser 4260, 26 Dec 42 ; 32d Div 
Overlays, Papuan Campaign, 26 Dec 42. 

52 127th Inf Jnl, 1113, 1145, 1205, 1215, 1230, 
1245, 26 Dec 42; 127th, Inf Tact Hist, 26 Dec 42; 
Ltr, Col Grose to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51. 



panies and bring back a report on their 
condition. Bradley, who at Grose's request 
was also acting as executive officer of the 
127th Infantry, was to be accompanied by 
Major Schroeder, 1st Lt. Robert P. Mc- 
Campbell, S-2 of the 2d Battalion, and a 
platoon of Company C, led by 1st Lt. Ted 
C. Johnson. The patrol set out at once, 
carrying with it wire, ammunition, and 
food. After some sharp skirmishing with the 
enemy the patrol reached its destination at 
1745 that afternoon. 53 

The two companies were in very bad 
condition when the patrol reached them. 
Major McCampbell, or Lieutenant Mc- 
Campbell as he then was, recalls the matter 
in these words : 

The condition of the companies on our 
arrival was deplorable. The dead had not 
been buried. Wounded, bunched together, 
had been given only a modicum of care, and 
the troops were demoralized. Major Schroe- 
der did a wonderful job of reorganizing the 
position and helping the wounded. The dead 
were covered with earth . . . the entire tacti- 
cal position of the companies were reorganized 
and [they were] placed in a strong defensive 
position. . . . 5i 

That evening Colonel Bradley, accom- 
panied by a small patrol, returned from the 
perimeter with a complete report. Major 
Schroeder and Lieutenant McCampbell re- 



53 127th Inf Jnl, 1745, 26 Dec 42; Ltr, Maj 
McCampbell to author, 26 Aug 50; Ltr, Col Grose 
to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51. Bradley, Schroeder, and 
McCampbell were all later decorated for getting 
through to the surrounded companies: Schroeder 
and McCampbell with the Distinguished Service 
Cross; Bradley with the Silver Star. Schroeder's cita- 
tion is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43; 
McCampbell's is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 
Jun 43; Bradley's is in Hq U.S. Forces Buna Area 
GO No. 7, 14 Jan 43. 

34 Ltr, Maj McCampbell to author, 26 Aug 50. 



URBANA FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 



301 



mained behind to continue with the reor- 
ganization of the troops. 85 

The attack was resumed early on 27 De- 
cember, with Colonel Bradley, on Colonel 
Grose's orders, in command of Companies 
B and C and the detachment of Company 
A. Company C and the detachment of Cap- 
tain Harger's company were held up by the 
bunkers north of the gardens, but Company 
B on their right made good progress all day. 
A grass fire set in the gardens by the enemy 
during the afternoon caused only slight 
interruption in its advance. By 1700 Lieu- 
tenant Lewis had moved through to Schroe- 
der's position with his entire company. 56 

By the morning of 28 December Major 
Schroeder had the forward perimeter well 
organized for action. The telephone was 
operating without interruption, ammuni- 
tion and food were going through, the walk- 
ing wounded had been successfully evacu- 



H Tel Msg, Col Bradley to Col Howe, Ser 4361, 
26 Dec 42; Interv with Col Grose, 18 Nov 50. In 
a letter he wrote to General Sutherland and then 
decided not to send, General Eichelberger noted 
the situation as Colonel Bradley reported it to him 
personally. It was to the effect that Company F 
had been "practically wiped out," and that the 
detachment of Company A had received "numerous 
casualties." "I must be frank, however, and tell 
you," he continued, "that the first two companies 
have taken tremendous losses, and everyone on the 
Urbana front has recommended that we reorganize 
and substitute two fresh companies of [them]." "I 
believe," he added, "that the greater part of the 
Japanese strength has been on our two forward 
companies." Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Suther- 
land, 27 Dec 42, marked "not sent," copy in OCMH 
files. 

M 127th Inf Jnl, 0200, 0830, 1500, 1525, 27 Dec 
42, 0826, 28 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 27 Dec 
42, 28 Dec 42; 32d Div Overlay, Papuan Cam- 
paign, 27 Dec 42, 28 Dec 42. Capt. Millard G. 
Gray, General Eichelberger's new aide-de-camp, 
who was in command of Company C between 24 
December and 1 January, was later awarded the 
Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq 
USAFFE GO No. 51, 30 Aug 43. 



ated to the rear, and the troops were being 
organized for attack. 57 

Early that morning Colonel Grose or- 
dered Company L out of the line to rest and 
clean up. He expected the break-through to 
the beleaguered companies to come momen- 
tarily. This expectation was quickly realized. 
Just before noon Company C on the left and 
Company G on the right broke through to 
the position held by Companies F and B 
and the detachment of Company A. The 
rest of Company A moved in soon after and 
the result was a broad corridor from En- 
trance Creek to the Coconut Plantation. 
Major Schroeder reported the establishment 
of the corridor the minute Companies C 
and G got through and, with a nourish char- 
acteristic of the man, asked Colonel Grose 
over the telephone, "Do you need any help 
in the rear areas?" 58 

It was obvious that the Japanese could 
not hope to hold the Triangle once they lost 
control of the gardens for the position was 
now outflanked and cut off. No one knew 
this better than the Japanese commander, 
Captain Yasuda, who had apparently lost 
no time in ordering it evacuated. When 
a volunteer party of Company E, 127th In- 
fantry, led by Sgt. Charles E. Wagner, with 
Pfc. James G. Greene as his second-in-com- 
mand, pushed its way cautiously into the 
Triangle that evening, it found that the 
Japanese had pulled out of the area some 
time before and that the fourteen bunkers 



" Ltr, Maj McCampbell to author, 26 Aug 50. 

58 127th Inf Jnl, 0750, 1131, 28 Dec 42; 127th 
Inf Tact Hist, 28 Dec 42 ; Interv with Col Grose, 
18 Nov 50. Colonel Bradley, who had been in the 
front lines with Company C all morning directing 
the advance and urging the men forward, was later 
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The cita- 
tion is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 36, 1 Jul 43. 



302 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




GENERAL EICHELBERGER AND MEMBERS OF HIS STAFF look over newly 
taken ground in the Triangle area. 



and innumerable trenches making up the 
position were empty. 59 

There was every indication that the Japa- 
nese had left their positions in the Triangle 
in a great hurry. Pieces of equipment and 
quantities of small arms ammunition were 
strewn about in the bunkers and fire 
trenches, and two 20-mm., gas operated, 
cart-mounted antiaircraft guns, together 
with large quantities of antiaircraft ammu- 
nition, had been left behind. The entire area 
was pockmarked with shell holes, and there 

59 1 27th Inf Tact Hist, 28 Dec 42. 



was mute evidence that some of the enemy 
had not long ago been caught in the open 
by Allied artillery fire. 60 

In evacuating the Triangle the Japanese 
had given up an immensely strong position 
that Urbana Force, despite many costly at- 
tempts, had found it impossible to take. 
Going over the ground a day later, General 
Eichelberger reported to General Suther- 
land: "I walked along there and found it 
terrifically strong. It is a mass of bunkers and 



60 127th Inf Jnl, 1755, 28 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact 
Hist, 28 Dec 42. 



URBAN A FORCE CLOSES ON THE MISSION 



303 



entrenchments surrounded by swamp. It is 
easy to see how they held us off so long." S1 
By the evening of the 28th Urbana Force 
was able to use the trail through the gardens 
as far as the Coconut Grove and also con- 
trolled the track junction along the coast. 
Major Schroeder's force was deep in the 

61 Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 29 
Dec 42, copy in OCMH files. 



Coconut Plantation, and Company B, its 
forward element, was only 120 yards from 
the sea. 62 The corridor from Entrance Creek 
to the coast had finally been established. 
Split off from Giropa Point, the mission now 
lay open to assault. 

sa Tel Msg, Gen Eichelberger to Col Howe, Ser 
4487, 28 Dec 42; 32d Div G-3 Daily Periodic Rpt, 
28 Dec 42. 



CHAPTER XVI 



The Fall of Buna 



With Warren Force poised to attack 
Giropa Point, and Urbana Force moving to 
envelop Buna Mission along the newly 
established corridor from Entrance Creek to 
the coast, the reduction of the enemy posi- 
tions on the Buna side of the Girua River 
was finally at hand. This was to be no easy 
task. The enemy at Buna was heavily out- 
numbered and almost completely sur- 
rounded, but he was fighting with the utmost 
ferocity and was to be cleared out of his re- 
maining positions at Buna only after some of 
the bitterest fighting of the campaign. 

The Advance to Giropa Point 

The Abortive Attack 
of 29 December 

Warren Force had completed the reduc- 
tion of the Old Strip on the 28th. Just before 
midnight of the same day the 2/12 Bat- 
talion, thirty officers and 570 other ranks 
under Lt. Col. A. S. W. Arnold, reached 
Oro Bay from Goodenough Island by cor- 
vette. The battalion and its gear were landed 
safely during the night, and the troops who 
were to begin moving forward to the front 
the next day went into bivouac in the 
brigade area near Boreo. 1 

1 Tel Msg, Col Myers to Col Howe, Ser 4540, 29 
Dec 42; 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 2257, 29 Dec 42; Rpt 
on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and 
Giropa Point. The 18th Brigade was replaced on 
Goodenough Island by the 7th Brigade from Milne 
Bay — the 2/1? Battalion, for instance, being re- 
placed there by the 25 Battalion. 



Brigadier Wootten devoted the next 
morning to regrouping and reorganization. 
Company A, 2/10 Battalion, moved to the 
left flank and took up a position on the right 
of Company C, 2/10 Battalion, which con- 
tinued on the far left as the main assault 
company. Companies B and D, 2/10 Bat- 
talion, continued as before on the far right, 
with D on the outside and B on D's left 
flank. Companies C and A, 128th Infantry, 
and Company C, 126th Infantry, with 
Company A, 126th Infantry, in support, 
were in the center of the line. Company B, 
126th Infantry, Company B, 128th Infan- 
try, and a composite company of the 2/9 
Battalion were in reserve. Four tanks in 
position at the bridge between the strips 
were ready to go, and seven others, which 
had just reached Boreo from Oro Bay, were 
in reserve, as was the 2/12 Battalion, which 
began moving to the front that morning. 2 

At 1235 Wootten gave verbal orders for 
an attack on the area between Giropa Point 
and the mouth of Simemi Creek. The at- 
tack, which was to be in a northeasterly di- 
rection toward the coast, was to be mounted 
after 1400 with the four available tanks. 
Company C, 2/10 Battalion, was to follow 
the tanks and in general make the main 



1 Tel Msg, Lt Winkler to Maj Hawkins, Ser 4541, 
29 Dec 42; Buna Force G-3 Sitrep, 29 Dec 42; 
Overlay, Buna Force Dispositions, 1700, 29 Dec 42; 
Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and 
Giropa Point. 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



305 



effort, but the companies on its right were 
to take advantage of every opportunity to 
advance provided they did not unneces- 
sarily expose their flanks. 3 

Colonel Dobbs fixed zero hour at 1600. 
The tanks were delayed, and the attack did 
not get under way until 1715, following an 
artillery preparation with smoke. In an 
effort apparently to make up for lost time, 
the tanks moved at high speed and came in 
obliquely across the line of departure. With- 
out waiting for the slower-moving infantry 
to close in behind them, they moved north 
without moderating their speed. The in- 
fantry as a result had to attack independ- 
ently of the tanks, and the tanks, far in 
front of the infantry, had to move on the 
enemy bunkers without infantry support. 

As the tanks hit the first line of bunkers, 
the Japanese, with no Allied infantry at 
hand to stop them, pulled back to their sec- 
ond bunker line. When the tanks finally 
discovered what had happened and began 
working on the second line, the Japanese 
filtered back into the first line, in plenty of 
time to stop the foot soldiers who had mean- 
while managed to fight their way into the 
grove. At 1845 the attack had to be called 
off. The tanks by that time had expended 
all their ammunition, and the infantrymen 
were met by such intense fire from hidden 
enemy bunker positions that they had to pull 
back to the edge of the Coconut Plantation 
and consolidate. 4 



The 2/12 Battalion is Committed 

The fresh 2/12 Battalion reached the 
front that night, 29 December. Early the 
following morning Brigadier Wootten 
ordered it to take over on the left in place of 
the 2/10 Battalion, which had seen a great 
deal of action and needed rest. The day was 
devoted to regrouping and reorganization. 
Colonel Arnold went forward to reconnoiter 
the front his battalion was to take over. 
Major Beaver's 126th Infantry troops, who 
were also in need of rest, exchanged places 
with Colonel MacNab's battalion, the 3d 
Battalion, 128th Infantry, which after a 
week of rest in the Cape Endaiadere area 
was again ready to attack. 

The redisposition of the troops was com- 
pleted next day. By evening of 3 1 December 
the battalions were in place: the 2/12 Bat- 
talion on the left, the 3d Battalion, 128th 
Infantry in the center, and the 2/10 Bat- 
talion on the right. The 2/12 Battalion and 
the 3d Battalion, 128th Infantry, were on 
an 1 , 1 00-yard east-west front and faced the 
coast. The 2/10 Battalion, with a holding 
mission, was drawn up across the head of 
the strip on a 500-yard front at right angles 
to them, its left tied in on the 3d Battalion, 
128th Infantry, and its right on Simemi 
Creek. Major Clarkson's 1st Battalion, 
128th Infantry, was on the 2/12 Battalion's 
left rear; C ompany A, 2 /9 Battalion, was 
in reserve. 5 (Map 15) 



3 Tel Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Ser 4554, 29 Dec 
42. 

4 Tel Msg, Maj Ziebell to Col Howe, Ser 4565, 
29 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Capt Conley to Col Howe, 
Ser 4577, 29 Dec 42; Tel Msg, 18th Bde to 32d 
Div, Ser 4579, 29 Dec 42; 128th Inf Jnl, 1715, 
1750, 29 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at 
Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point. 



5 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 1027, 1034, 30 Dec 
42: 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 0831, 1033, 1300, 1500, 
1730, 30 Dec 42; 32d Div Sitreps No. 134, 30 Dec 
42, No. 136, 31 Dec 42; Buna Force G-3 Sitrep, 
31 Dec 42 ; 32d Div Overlays, 31 Dec 42; Rpt on 
Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa 
Point. 



306 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




At 1535 Brigadier Wootten issued a care- 
fully drawn plan for the reduction the next 
day of Giropa Point and the area between it 
and the Old Strip. The attack would be sup- 
ported by the mortars of the 2/10 Battalion, 
the 25-pounders of the Manning and Hall 
Troops, and the 4. 5 -inch howitzers of the 
Stokes Troop. Of the eleven tanks of X 
Squadron, 2/6 Armored Regiment, nine 
would be committed to the attack: six im- 
mediately, and the remaining three as they 
were needed. 

The operation was to be in two phases. 
In Phase One the 2/12 Battalion and the 



tanks, with the 1st Battalion, 128th Infan- 
try, as left-flank guard, were to attack in a 
northeasterly direction, break through to 
the coast, and turn southeast, thereby com- 
pleting the enemy's encirclement. In Phase 
Two, the 2/12 Battalion was to herd the 
encircled Japanese toward the companies 
advancing on the right and, with their help, 
destroy them. 6 

That night, while the troops snatched 
what rest they could before the next day's at- 
tack, the K.P.M. ship Bath and the Austral- 

6 18th Aust Inf Bde Gp Opns Order No. 2, 31 
Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Ser 6, 31 Dec 42. 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



307 



ian freighter Comara came into Oro Bay 
with 350 and 500 tons of cargo, respectively, 
unloaded, and departed before daybreak. 
The arrival of the Bath and the Comara 
marked a logistical milestone in the cam- 
paign. Since the night of 11-12 December, 
when the Karsik made the first pioneering 
trip to Oro Bay, six freighters making nine 
individual trips had brought in roughly 
4,000 tons of cargo. This was more than 
three times the 1,252 tons that the Air Force 
had flown in to the 32d Division during the 
same period, and 1,550 more than the 2,450 
tons that it was to fly in for the 32d Divi- 
sion's use during the entire period that the 
division was in combat. Between the freight- 
ers and the luggers, an average of 200 tons 
of cargo was now coming into Oro Bay daily 
and had been since 20 December. 7 Supply at 
Buna, in short, had ceased to be a problem 
just as the fight for the place was coming to 
an end. 

The Attack on New Year's Day 

After a heavy artillery and mortar prepa- 
ration, the troops on the right and left moved 
out for the attack at 0800, New Year's Day. 
On the left, Companies A and D, 2/12 Bat- 
talion, and the six tanks cut northeast 
through the plantation toward the coast. 
The 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, followed 

'Hist Port Det E, COSC, Buna; 3 2d Div G-4 
Sec, Rear Echelon, Record of Air Shipments, 13 
Nov 42-23 Jan 43; 32d Div AAR, Papuan Cam- 
paign; 3 2d Div QM Det, Rpt on Activities, Papuan 
Campaign; Interv with Col Moffatt, 23 Feb 50. 
The tonnage brought in by the freighters during 
the twenty-day period in question included 3,100 
tons of general cargo and an estimated 900 tons of 
tanks, vehicles, and road-building equipment for 
which no precise figures are available. The six 
freighters were the Karsik, the Japara, the Bantam, 
the Mulcru, the Bath, and the Comara. The Karsik 
made three individual trips during this period ; the 
Japara, two; the rest, one each. 



them. Facing north, Companies I, K, and L, 
1 28th Infantry, moved on the dispersal bays 
off the northwest end from below (south), 
and the 2/10 Battalion, facing west, re- 
mained in position on the Old Strip. 

Without tanks to support it, the attack by 
the 3d Battalion, 128th Infantry, went 
slowly. The Japanese in the dispersal bays 
were well entrenched and fighting hard. On 
the left, the attack made excellent progress 
from the start. Closely followed by the in- 
fantry, the tanks made short work of the 
enemy defenses in the Giropa Plantation. 
The leading tank reached the coastal track 
below Giropa Point at 0830. A half -hour 
later all the tanks and most of the infantry 
had reached the coast. The 1st Battalion, 
128th Infantry, moved forward, mopping 
up pockets of enemy resistance that the Aus- 
tralians had overlooked or bypassed. Com- 
pany A, 2/12 Battalion, with Company D 
immediately behind it, anchored its left flank 
on Giropa Creek, just west of Giropa Point, 
and began to consolidate on a 400-yard front 
along the shore. Companies B and C, 2/12 
Battalion, which had been operating to the 
rear of Companies A and D, began moving 
eastward and southeastward with the tanks 
to complete the second phase of the attack. 

Against the stiff est kind of opposition, the 
tanks and the Australian infantry following 
them moved steadily forward. By evening 
Companies C and D had cleared out the 
beach as far as the mouth of Simemi Creek. 
The 2/12 Battalion lost 62 killed, 128 
wounded, and one missing in the day's fight- 
ing, but the Japanese on the Warren front 
were finished. All that remained was to de- 
liver the coup de grace? 

s 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 2, 3, 5, 12, 1 Jan 
43; 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1445, 1645, 2230, 1 Jan 
43: No. 138, 32d Div Sitrep, 1 Jan 43; Rpt on 
Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa 
Point. 



308 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




FIRING A 60-MM. MORTAR into the enemy lines at Buna Mission. 



The Australians had pressed into use that 
day for the first time a blast bomb of their 
own invention consisting essentially of a 
Mills bomb screwed into a two-pound can 
of ammonal explosive. As Colonel MacNab 
recalls, it was used in the following manner : 
"A tank would knock a corner off the enemy 
bunker, and while this hole was 'buttoned 
up' by automatic or rifle fire, a volunteer 
would creep up to the side of the bunker, 
heave in the bomb, and duck. The explo- 
sion would rock the bunker and stupefy the 
Japanese inside. Then a can of Jap aviation 
gasoline would be tossed in, ignited by 



tracers, and the bunker would be burned 

out." 9 

The end came the next morning. Major 
Clarkson's 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, 
finished clearing out the last pocket of enemy 
resistance on the left; details of the 2/9 and 
2/10 Battalions finally cleaned out the 
enemy emplacements on the island at the 
mouth of Simemi Creek; and Companies 
C and B, 2/12 Battalion, the 3d Battalion, 



*Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 25 Nov 49. The 
explosive ammonal consists of a mixture of am- 
monium nitrate, powdered aluminum, and charcoal, 
and is noted for its powerful blast properties. 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



309 



128th Infantry, and eight tanks attacked 
the Japanese in the dispersal bays. The 2/10 
Battalion, with Allied fire coming in its di- 
rection, stayed down out of harm's way. 10 

The attacks by Colonel Arnold and 
Colonel MacNab, the one attacking from 
the west and the other from the south, were 
soon over. As the fire slackened, the officers 
and men of the 2/10 Battalion rose out of 
their holes in the Old Strip area and watched 
the last Japanese positions being overrun. 11 

This was the last organized attack de- 
livered by Warren Force. After taking 
Giropa Point and the area immediately to 
the eastward, the troops had little left to do 
but mop up. Orders were issued that day 
to the 2/12 Battalion and the 3d Battalion, 
128th Infantry, to begin moving westward 
toward Buna Mission in the morning. The 
orders were revoked a few hours later, when 



10 Tel Msg, Lt Winkler to Col Howe, Ser 4862, 2 
Jan 43; Tel Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Ser 4878, 2 
Jan 43; Tel Msg, 18th Bde to Adv NGF, Ser 4918, 
2 Jan 43; 32d Div Sitrep, No. 140, 2 Jan 43; Buna 
Force G-3 Sitrep, 2 Jan 43; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde 
Gp at Gape Endaiadere and Giropa Point ; Ltr, Col 
MacNab to Gen Ward, 7 Mar 51. 

11 Ltr, Col MacNab to Gen Ward, 7 Mar 51. Colo- 
nel MacNab recalls the attack in these words : 
"Arnold and I took our outfits in with a sort of old- 
time flourish. . . . Arnold and I had been in view 
of each other almost continuously during this period, 
each in the front line of his troops. . . . When he 
had gotten fairly close to the line of bunkers (we 
were coining in on their rear and flank) he yelled 
to my troops, 'Where is the American commander?' 
I replied . . ., 'you know damn well where I am, 
you've been trying to get abreast for an hour.' He 
yelled 'Let's get the bastards,' and I yelled at my 
Company L and one platoon of Company K in the 
front wave, 'Come on you grease balls.' (Never be- 
fore or since have I ever called a man that.) We all, 
Aussies and Yanks, went in on the run. There were 
not many Japs left. We killed them in the grass with 
bayonets, and . . . when we couldn't reach them 
[with fire]." Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 18 Apr 50. 
MacNab was later awarded the Distinguished Serv- 
ice Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 
34, 21 Jun 43. 



it was found that contact had been made 
with Urbana Force, and that that force was 
already proceeding with the envelopment 
of Buna Mission. 12 

The Capture of Buna Mission 

The Failure To Cross 
the North Bridge 

At 1330, 28 December, while Urbana 
Force was tidying up its corridor from 
Entrance Creek to the coast and preparing 
to move forward to the sea, General Eichel- 
berger, accompanied by General Suther- 
land, Colonel Bowen, Colonel Rogers, and 
Colonel Harding, arrived at Colonel Grose's 
CP from Buna Force headquarters. Asked 
for a report on the situation, Grose gave 
Eichelberger a resume of how things stood. 
Among other things, Grose told Eichel- 
berger that he had just taken the 3d Bat- 
talion out of the line for a much-needed rest. 
At 1428, without discussing the matter fur- 
ther with Grose, Eichelberger ordered that 
the 3d Battalion, split into two elements, 
launch an immediate attack on Buna Mis- 
sion. One element was to advance on the 
mission from the island by way of the north 
bridge ; the other element, starting from the 
southern side of the island, was to move 
upon it in five Australian assault boats 
which had reached the front the day before. 

Eichelberger and Grose had discussed this 
plan and several others some days before, 
but had never worked out the details. 
Grose recalls that he was so startled by the 
sudden order to commit the tired battalion 
to such an attack that it took him a few 



12 3d Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1930, 2 Jan 43, 0723, 
0810, 3 Jan 43; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape 
Endaiadere and Giropa Point. 



310 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



minutes to organize the maneuvers in his 
mind. 13 

Aside from the weariness of his troops, 
there was another even greater difficulty. 
The enemy had a line of bunkers just off the 
northern end of the bridge, and the bridge 
itself, a narrow, makeshift structure forty 
feet long and a couple of feet wide, had a 
fifteen-foot gap at its northern end — the 
result of a recent Allied artillery hit. 14 

As soon as I had my thoughts collected 
[Grose recalls], I called for volunteers 
among the officers present to do certain 
things. Colonel Bowen volunteered to get the 
engineers and collect the necessary tim- 
bers to fix the bridge, Colonel Rogers to 
reconnoiter the position on the island and 
see that the troops were conducted thereto, 
and Colonel Harding to coordinate and 
control the mortar and artillery fire. I or- 
dered Captain Stephen Hewitt, my S— 2, to 
make the reconnaissance of the route the 
boats were to take . . . and Captain Leon- 
ard E. Garret, my S-3, to arrange for and 
coordinate the fires of Company H from the 
island and the troops on the finger, both of 
which were to fire on the mission preceding 
the attack, 15 

Colonel Grose quickly worked out the 
details of the plan. The attack was to open 
with fifteen minutes of artillery and mortar 
fire on the mission and the bunkers facing 
the bridge. Guided by directions given them 
by Captain Hewitt as a result of his recon- 
naissance, forty men of Company K in the 

" Col Grose's Diary, 28 Dec 42; Intervs with Col 
Grose, 18 Nov 50, 1 Feb 51 ; Ltr, Col Grose to Gen 
Ward, 26 Feb 51. 

"Tel Msg, Capt Hewitt, Ser 4474, 28 Dec 42; 
127th Inf Jnl, 1428, 28 Dec 42; Col Bowen, Certifi- 
cate, 3 Jan 43, copy in OCMH files; Rpt, CG Buna 
Forces, p. 3. 

"Ltr, Col Grose to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51. This 
finger was a narrow spit of land projecting from 
the vicinity of Buna Village to the mouth of En- 
trance Creek. It will be called hereafter the village 
finger. The finger on the other side of the mouth 
of Entrance Creek will be called the mission finger. 



five assault boats were to round the eastern 
end of the island just as the preparatory fire 
began lifting. They were to land east of the 
bridge and establish a bridgehead. Sup- 
ported by fire from Company H on the is- 
land and from a platoon of Company E at 
the tip of the village finger, they were to 
engage the enemy with fire, thereby mask- 
ing the bridge and permitting the planks 
required to make it usable to be laid in 
safety. As soon as the planks were down, the 
rest of Company K would dash across the 
bridge in single file, and would be followed 
by Company I and Company L, in that 
order. When all three companies were across, 
they would attack north in concert with 
Major Schroeder's force on the coast, which 
would attack from the southeast. 16 

The preliminary tasks were completed in 
short order. Captain Hewitt, who had 
gone out in one of the assault boats, re- 
turned with the results of his reconnaissance. 
Six enlisted men volunteered to lay in place 
the three heavy timbers that would span the 
gap at the northern end of the bridge. Com- 
manding the assault boats, 1st Lt. Clarence 
Riggs of the 3d Battalion's Ammunition and 
Pioneer Platoon quickly moved them into 
position in some heavy foliage off the south- 
ern side of the island. The rest of the 3d 
Battalion, guided by Colonel Rogers, began 
moving forward to the bridge area from 
the center of the island. Having been told 
only a little while before that they were to 
be given a rest, the troops of the battalion 
were slow in moving forward, and Colonel 
Rogers was unable to get them into posi- 
tion south of the bridge until the first salvo 
of the artillery preparation hit the mission. 

The time was 1720. As the first artillery 
salvo went down, the boats pushed off from 

16 127th Inf Jnl, 1428, 1538, 28 Dec 42; 127th 
Inf Tact Hist, 28 Dec 42. 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



311 



their hidden position. The troops had been 
misdirected by Captain Hewitt, however. 
Instead of going around the island and 
landing on the east side of Entrance Creek, 
they tried to land on the mission finger. 
The platoon of Company E on the village 
finger mistook them for the enemy and 
opened fire on them, as did the Japanese. 
Lieutenant Riggs' boat,in the lead, swamped 
and sank. Although Riggs could not swim, 
he somehow reached shore and managed to 
stop the firing from the village finger, but 
it was too late: most of the boats had 
already been sunk in the shallows. Fortu- 
nately no one was killed or drowned. 17 

Things had also miscarried at the bridge. 
The six men to volunteer — Pvts. Arthur 
Melanson and Earl Mittelberger, T/5's 
Charles H. Gray and Bart McDonough of 
Company A, 1 14th Engineer Battalion, and 
Pvts. Elmer R. Hangarten and Edward G. 
Squires of Company H — had advanced 
across the bridge, two men to a timber. 
Amid heavy fire from the opposite shore, 
they dropped the three timbers in place, and 
all except Mittelberger, who was killed on 
the bridge, lived to tell the tale. As soon as 
the timbers were in place, Company K 
started crossing. Scarcely had the first two 
men reached the northern end of the bridge, 
when the newly laid planks fell into the 
stream because of the weakness of the 
pilings at the other end of the bridge. The 
two men, one of them wounded and neither 

" 127th Inf Jnl, 1515, 1538, 1720, 1735, 28 Dec 
42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 28 Dec 42; Col Grose's 
Diary, 28 Dec 42; Col Bowen, Certificate, 3 Jan 
4; Interv with Col Grose, 18 Nov 50; Ltr, Col 
Rogers to author, 26 Jun 50: Ltr, Maj Philip A. 
Jenson to author, 24 Jun 51 ; Ltr, Col Grose to Gen 
Ward, 26 Feb 51. S. S>gt. Milan J. Miljativich of 
Company K took command when Lieutenant Riggs' 
boat sank and tried desperately to redirect the rest 
of the boats to the mission. He was later awarded 
the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in 
Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43. 



able to swim, hid under the bank on the 
other side of the stream, only their heads 
showing. They were rescued the following 
night by 1st Lt. William H. Bragg, Jr., com- 
manding officer of the mortar platoon of 
Company H, and three enlisted men of the 
company, who swam across the creek to 
save them. 18 

The New Plan 

On the night of 28-29 December ammu- 
nition and pioneer troops of the 127th In- 
fantry finished digging a 2 l /i -foot-deep 
trench across the northwest end of the gar- 
dens. The trench, which they had begun the 
night before, was the idea of Capt. W. A. 
Larson, Major Hootman's successor as regi- 
mental S-A. Early on 29 December it went 
into use as a route by which supplies were 
brought forward and the wounded were 
carried back. It was an immediate success 
and proved as useful in the transfer of 
troops as in evacuation and supply. 19 

Later the same morning the original 
Urbana Force — the 2d Battalion, 126th 



18 127th Inf Jnl, 1735, 28 Dec 42, 2215, 29 Dec 
42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 27 Dec 42, 28 Dec 42; 
Ltr, Col Rogers to author, 26 Jun 50; Ltr, Col 
Grose to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51; Ltr, Col Herbert 
A. Smith to Gen Ward, 20 Mar 51. The six volun- 
teers were later awarded the Distinguished Service 
Cross. Their citations are in GHQ SWPA GO No. 
11, 22 Jan 43. Colonel Bowen and Colonel Rogers, 
who were both active at the southern end of the 
bridge trying to get the attack started, were also 
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. For Col- 
onel Rogers, who was twice wounded that after- 
noon, it was the second time in the campaign that 
he was to be so decorated. Colonel Bowen's citation 
for the Distinguished Service Cross is in GHQ 
SWPA GO No. 4, 10 Jan 43; Colonel Roger's cita- 
tion for the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished 
Service Cross is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 7, 15 Jan 
43. 

16 127th Inf Jnl, 1850, 27 Dec 42; Col Grose's 
Diary, 27 Dec 42; Interv with Col Grose, 18 Nov 
50; Ltr, Lt Co' W. A. Larson to author, 23 Jan 51. 



312 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Infantry, and the 2d Battalion, 128th In- 
fantry — went back into the line. The 2d 
Battalion, 126th Infantry, less the troops at 
Tarakena and Siwori Village, took up a 
holding position at the southeast end of the 
Government Gardens, and the 2d Battalion, 
128th Infantry, moved into the Triangle to 
take over its defense. Just after the two bat- 
talions began moving forward from their 
rest areas, Company B, 127th Infantry, 
from its position along the coast southeast 
of the mission, pushed forward to the sea 
and established a 200-foot frontage along 
the shore. 20 

Major Schroeder's line now extended 
from Entrance Creek to the sea, but the 
troops on the island were still held up by 
fire from the northern end of the bridge. 
An apparent solution to the problem was 
found that night. Just before midnight a 
patrol of Company H, 127th Infantry, 
under 1st Lt. Allan W. Simms, waded across 
from the village sandspit to the spit project- 
ing from the mission. The patrol remained 
on the mission side of the creek for half an 
hour, without receiving any fire or finding 
any Japanese in the area. On the basis of 
this evidence of enemy weakness, a new 
plan to envelop the mission was drawn on 
30 December. 

Under the new plan, Company E, 127th 
Infantry, and Company F, 128th Infantry, 
the 127th Infantry troops leading, would 
cross the shallows between the village and 
the mission. Company E was to turn right 
and establish a bridgehead. Company F 
crossing behind it would move northeast 
along the coast directly on the mission as 
soon as Company E had knocked out the 
bunkers and the bridge was repaired. Com- 

a ° Tel Msg, Col Bowen to Col Howe, Ser 4539, 29 
Dec 42; 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 0935, 1200, 1220, 
29 Dec 42; 127th Inf Jnl, 0750, 1320, 29 Dec 42; 
32d Div G-3 Daily Periodic Rpt, 29 Dec 42. 



pany H, 127th Infantry, and Company G, 
1 28th Infantry 5 would cross over from the 
island, tie in on Company F's right along 
the coast, and attack. Major Schroeder's 
1st Battalion, 127th Infantry, reinforced 
by elements of the 2d and 3d Battalions, 
would meanwhile be moving on the mission 
from the southeast. The result would be a 
double envelopment of the mission with 
separate columns converging upon it simul- 
taneously from the front and from both 
flanks. This final, multipronged attack was 
to open at dawn the following morning, 
31 December. 21 

The Attack of 31 December 

Preparations for the attacks from the vil- 
lage spit were completed in good time on the 
30th. Early in the morning, while Company 
G, 127th Infantry, under Captain Dames, 
moved into the Coconut Grove for a well- 
earned rest, Company F, 128th Infantry, 
under Capt. Jefferson R. Cronk, went into 
bivouac at Buna Village, and was joined 
there by Company E, 127th Infantry (less 
the platoon on the finger) . Company E, low 
in morale after its heavy losses in the Tri- 
angle, was under the command of Lieuten- 
ant Bragg of Company H, who had volun- 
teered to lead it in the attack across the 
shallows. 22 

Major Schroeder had meanwhile been 
attacking toward the mission. The Japanese 
were still holding strongly along the coast, 
and he made little progress. There was no 
cause for concern, however, for Schroeder's 
position was secure. Facing Buna Mission, 

21 Urbana Force FO No. 1, 30 Dec 42, FO No. 2, 
30 Dec 42; 127th Inf Jnl, 1700, 30 Dec 42; 127th 
Inf Tact Hist, 30 Dec 42; Ltr, Col Herbert A. Smith 
to Gen Ward, 20 Mar 51. 

" 127th Inf Jnl, 0625, 30 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact 
Hist, 30 Dec 42, 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



313 



the line was held by Companies F, A, K, and 
L. Elements of Company M and Company 
B in platoon strength were in place in the 
gardens on both sides of the corridor; Com- 
panies C and I were in the center of the cor- 
ridor; Company D was to the east of it 
facing Giropa Point. 23 It was clear that the 
enemy for all his tenacity would not be able 
to hold on the coast when the attacks from 
the village and the island got under way. 

At 0430 the following morning, while it 
was still dark, Company E, 127th Infantry, 
and Company F, 128th Infantry, started 
moving in single file across the shallows be- 
tween the finger and the mission. Company 
E was in the lead, with Lieutenant Bragg at 
the head of the column. The plan was to 
launch a surprise attack on the enemy posi- 
tions opposite the bridge at daybreak. The 
men were under orders to make as little noise 
as possible and had been warned not to fire 
their weapons until told to do so. Company 
E gained the spit on the mission side with- 
out alerting the enemy, turned right, and 
began to move inland. Just as the leading 
elements of the company reached the spit, 
some of the men to the rear, unable to resist 
the temptation, threw grenades into a cou- 
ple of landing barges that were stranded on 
the beach. At once the whole area broke 
into an uproar, the beach lit up with flares, 
and the troops were assailed with hand 
grenades, rifle grenades, and automatic 
weapons. 24 

33 1 27th Inf Jnl, 0710, 1320, 29 Dec 42, 0615, 
1035, 1050, 1120, 1220, 1330, 1630, 30 Dec 42; 32d 
Div G-3 Daily Periodic Rpt, 29 Dec 42; 127th Inf 
Tact Hist, 29 Dec 42, 30 Dec 42 : 32d Div Overlays, 
Papuan Campaign, 30 Dec 42. 

34 127th Inf Jnl, 0430, 0505, 31 Dec 42; 2d Bn, 
128th Inf, Jnl, 0700, 31 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact 
Hist, 31 Dec 42; Col Grose, Affidavit, 7 Apr 44, in 
450.4, I Corps File, in AGO RAG Files; Memo, Col 
Grose, Comments on the Buna-Sanananda Opera- 
tion, 20 Feb 46, copy in OCMH files; Ltr, Col Grose 
to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51. 



The Japanese reaction threw the troops 
into a panic. Their plight became even 
worse when Lieutenant Bragg, who in Gen- 
eral Eichelberger's words was to have been 
"the spark plug of the whole affair," was 
shot in the legs during the first few moments 
of the firing and, in the confusion of the 
moment, was reported missing. 25 

Colonel Grose waited on the village spit 
to hear news of the attack. He had a man 
with sound-powered telephone and a roll 
of wire following the action and reporting 
on its progress. The first information Grose 
heard on the phone was that the lieutenant 
who had taken command when Bragg fell 
was "running to the rear," and that there 
were others with him. 

I told the man [Colonel Grose recalls] to 
stop them and send them back. He replied that 
he couldn't because they were already past 
him. Then the man said, ; The whole company 
is following them.' So I placed myself on the 
trail over which I knew they would have to 
come, and, pistol in hand, I stopped the lieu- 
tenant and all those following him. I directed 
the lieutenant to return and he said he 
couldn't. I then asked him if he knew what 
that meant and he said he did. The first ser- 
geant was wounded, and I therefore let him 
proceed to the dressing station. I designated a 
sergeant nearby to take the men back and he 
did so. I then sent the lieutenant to the rear 
in arrest and under guard. 20 

Although Company E, in its flight, passed 
through Company F, 128th Infantry, which 
had been moving forward immediately to 
its rear, Captain Cronk's company was not 
affected by Company E's disorganization. 
Cronk himself, Colonel Grose recalls, was as 
calm and collected as if he were on the drill 



13 Col Grose's Diary, 31 Dec 42; Ltr, Gen Eichel- 
berger to Gen Sutherland, 31 Dec 42, copy in 
OCMH files: Ltr, Col Grose to Gen Ward, 26 
Feb 51. 

" Ltr, Col Grose to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51. 



314 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



field. The 1 28th Infantry troops moved for- 
ward steadily and, by the time they were 
finally joined by Company E, had estab- 
lished a strong position on the spit and were 
holding their own. On Colonel Grose's or- 
ders Captain Cronk took command of Com- 
pany E, and the two companies began 
attacking toward the bunkers in the area 
north of the bridge. They met stiff resist- 
ance, and, in a full day's fighting, Cronk 
could report only a small advance, though 
he hoped to do better the next day. 2r 

The steadiness under fire of Captain 
Cronk's company had saved the day. Gen- 
eral Eichelberger finally had his long-sought 
toe hold on the mission, and Captain Ya- 
suda's troops, under attack for the first time 
from two directions, faced annihilation. 

Yasuda had received some rations and 
ammunition by submarine on the night of 
the 25 th and continued to fight stoutly for 
the mission with his remaining troops. 28 The 
fighting was particularly bitter along the 
coast southeast of the mission and in the 
swamp north of the gardens, where elements 
of Company C were still busy cleaning out 
pockets of enemy resistance. Although 
Companies E, F, and H, 126th Infantry, 
under Captain Sullivan, advanced 300 yards 
in the area east of the right fork of the 
Triangle, thus completing the capture of 
the gardens, the day's gains along the coast 



" 127th Inf Jnl, 0505, 0610, 0635, 31 Dec 42; 
127th Inf Tact Hist, 21 Dec 42; Ltr, Gen Eichel- 
berger to Gen Sutherland, 31 Dec 42 : 32d Div G-3 
Daily Periodic Rpt, 31 Dec 42 ; Col Grose, Affidavit, 
7 Apr 44; Col Grose, Comments on the Buna- 
Sanananda Operation, 20 Feb 46. 

™ Statement of unnamed POW, in 1st Bn, 128th 
Inf, Jnl, 1232, 1 Jan 43. The submarine, which 
had surfaced and shelled the shore the same night, 
got away safely. 127th Inf Tact Hist, 25 Dec 42; 
32d Div Hist of Arty, Papuan Campaign. 



and in the swamp north of the gardens were 
disappointing. 29 

The enemy was resisting fanatically, but 
he was obviously nearing the end of his pow- 
ers. For several days artillery overs from the 
Warren front had been troubling the troops 
on the Urbana front, and the troops on the 
Warren front were, in turn, receiving fire 
that could have come only from Urbana 
Force. Not only were the two forces moving 
closer together, but a patrol of the 2d Bat- 
talion, 126th Infantry, had made contact 
that morning with a patrol of Warren Force 
at the southwest end of the gardens. 30 

Since Warren Force was to mount its 
final attack on Giropa Point in the morning, 
Company B, 127th Infantry, was ordered to 
attack eastward the next day to link up with 
Warren Force and assist it in the cleanup. 
General Eichelberger wrote to General Suth- 
erland that night that he hoped the attack 
would "go through in fine shape." "If it 
did," he added, "it will then be just a matter 
of cleaning up Buna Mission." 31 



19 2d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 31 Dec 42; 127th Inf 
Jnl, 0818, 31 Dec 42: 32d Div G-3 Daily Periodic 
Rpt, 31 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 31 Dec 42; 
Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 31 Dec 
42 : Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 36. Pvt. Earl Johnson 
and Pfc. Herman Bender of Company M, 127th 
Infantry — both killed that day — greatly distin- 
guished themselves in the fighting along the coast. 
Johnson was killed while covering the withdrawal of 
his squad from a dangerously advanced position 
where it had been pinned down by enemy fire; 
Bender met his death as the result of a bold dash 
through an open field swept by enemy fire to find 
the flank of a neighboring unit with which all con- 
tact had been lost. Both men were posthumously 
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The 
citations are in Hq USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43. 

30 Tel Msg, Brig Wootten to Col Howe, Ser 4486, 
28 Dec 42 ; Tel Msg, Maj Henry G. Nulton to Col 
Bowen, Ser 4680, 31 Dec 42; 32d Div G-3 Daily 
Periodic Rpt, 31 Dec 42. 

51 Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 3 1 
Dec 42. 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



315 



General Eichelberger described the situa- 
tion "as it is at present" in these words: 

On the right, the Australians with their 
tanks have moved up to the mouth of Simemi 
Creek, [and] the entire area of the two strips is 
in our hands. Martin's men have extended to 
the left from the Old Strip for several hundred 
yards so that the forces of the Urbana and 
Warren fronts are now only about 600 yards 
apart. On the left, we have established a cor- 
ridor between Giropa Point and Buna Mis- 
sion, and have moved enough men in there to 
make it hold. The famous "Triangle" which 
held us up so long, was finally taken, and our 
men also occupy the island south of Buna Vil- 
lage. Today, we are moving on Buna Mission 
from both directions, and I sincerely hope we 
will be able to knock it off. 

After noting that there had hitherto been 
many disappointments in the campaign, he 
went on to say, "Little by little we are 
getting those devils penned in and perhaps 
we shall be able to finish them shortly." 32 

Colonel Yazawa's Mission 

At Rabual, meanwhile, the impending 
collapse at Buna was causing 18th Army 
headquarters the deepest concern. On 26 
December General Adachi ordered General 
Yamagata (whose headquarters, it will be 
recalled, was then at Danawatu, north of 
Gona) to move all his troops by sea to 
Giruwa. He was to use them first to rescue 
the Buna garrison. If the rescue failed, he 
was to divert them to the defense of Giruwa 
and hold it to the last. Two days later, 
Adachi ordered Buna evacuated. Its defend- 
ers were to fight their way to Giruwa with 
the help of a special force which would be 
under command of Colonel Yazawa, who 
was to proceed to Buna Mission from 



32 Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Col Rex Chandler, 
DCofS, I Corps, Rockhampton, 31 Dec 42, in 312, 
I Corps File, in ORB RAC, AGO. 



Giruwa by way of the beach and attack the 
American left flank. After cutting his way 
through to the beleaguered Japanese Army 
and Navy troops holding the mission, he 
was to withdraw with them to Giruwa. 33 

It was a desperate plan, but not neces- 
sarily an impracticable one. The Japanese 
must have known from clashing with Lieu- 
tenant Chagnon's fifty-two men near Tara- 
kena that the American flank covering Buna 
was virtually undefended. They may have 
thought, therefore, that Colonel Yazawa's 
raiding party might still save the defenders 
of Buna Mission — only about two miles 
from Tarakena by beach — by launching a 
sudden surprise attack, advancing swiftly, 
and making a quick withdrawal. 

General Yamagata lost no time in com- 
plying with General Adachi's orders. On 27 
December he ordered 430 men from Dana- 
watu to Giruwa, with orders to report to 
Colonel Yazawa. Yazawa, who had led his 
regiment across the Owen Stanleys and 
back, was perhaps the most experienced and 
resourceful commander the Japanese had 
at Giruwa. The fact that he was detailed to 
the task of rescuing the Buna garrison was 
an indication of the importance Rabaul at- 
tached to his mission. 

General Yamagata arrived at Giruwa on 
29 December and, two days later, gave 
Colonel Yazawa his orders. The rescue 
operation, the orders read, was to be directly 
under Yamagata's command. It was to be 
undertaken as soon as a suitable concentra- 
tion of forces reached Giruwa from Dana- 
watu. 34 The move came too late. Even as 



33 Buna Shitai Opns Orders No. 44, North 
Giruwa, 31 Dec 42, in ATIS CT 29, No. 350; 18th 
Army Opns I, pp. 27, 28. 

31 18th Army Opns I, pp. 27, 28; Buna Shitai 
Opns Orders No. A-39, 27 Dec 42, in ATIS CT 29, 
No. 350. 



316 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



Yazawa began assembling troops for the 
thrust eastward, the fall of Buna Mission 
was imminent, and most of its defenders 
had only a few hours to live. 

The Envelopment 

On New Year's day, while Warren Force 
and its tanks were reducing Giropa Point, 
Urbana Force launched what it hoped 
would be the final assault on Buna Mission, 
Early in the morning, while Company B 
attacked eastward toward Giropa Point, the 
artillery and mortars laid down a heavy 
barrage on the mission and the rest of Ur- 
bana Force struck at the Japanese line 
around the mission. Captain Cronk attacked 
from the mission spit, and Major Schroe- 
der's troops, pivoting on Entrance Creek, 
moved on the mission from the southeast. 
Some Company B men could already see the 
tanks on Giropa Point, but the unit was still 
held up by very strong enemy resistance. 
Company F, 128th Infantry, left alone on 
the spit when Colonel Grose withdrew Com- 
pany E, 127th Infantry, for reorganization, 
also found itself unable to move forward. 
In the swamp Company C, supported on 
the right by Company M, moved forward 
150 yards, and the remaining companies to 
the right of M — F, A, and L, with I and 
D immediately to the rear — made some 
progress. 

The enemy had thus far fought with the 
greatest tenacity, but evidence of his dis- 
integration was not lacking. On the evening 
of 1 January while Colonel Smith of the 2d 
Battalion, 128th Infantry, and Major 
Clarkson of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infan- 
try, established a joint Urbana Force-War- 
ren Force outpost in the no man's land be- 
tween their two fronts, Japanese troops were 
sighted for the first time trying to swim from 



the mission — an unmistakable sign that 
the mission's defense was on the point of 
collapse. 35 

Urbana Force made careful preparations 
for the next day's attack. The main effort 
was to be along the coast. It was to be spear- 
headed by two relatively rested units, Com- 
pany G, 127th Infantry, and Company G, 
1 28th Infantry, which had gone into reserve 
when the troops on the mission spit failed 
to knock out the bunkers facing the north 
bridge. Company H, 127th Infantry, would 
cross over from the island as soon as either 
Company F, 128th Infantry, advancing 
from the mission spit, or Company C, 127th 
Infantry, moving up through the swamp 
north of the gardens, took over the area 
north of the bridge and made repair of the 
bridge possible. 36 

The Japanese continued their desperate 
attempts to escape. Just before dawn of the 
next day, Saturday, twenty enemy soldiers 
carrying heavy packs and led by a lieutenant 
made a break for the beached landing barges 
on the mission spit. They had three machine 
guns with them and their packs were loaded 
with food, medicine, and personal effects, 
as if for a quick getaway. Captain Cronk's 
company turned its machine guns and rifles 
on them and cut them down to a man. At 
daylight, observers all the way from Buna 
Village to Tarakena caught sight of large 
numbers of Japanese in the water. Some 



35 127th Inf Jnl, 1600, 1850, 1900, 1 Jan 43; G-3 
Daily Periodic Rpt, Buna Force, 1 Jan 43 ; Ltr, Gen 
Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 1 Jan 43, copy in 
OCMH files. During this day's action Pvt. Robert H. 
Campbell of Company M, 127th Infantry, crawled 
to the rescue of a wounded member of the company, 
who was lying in the open in the direct line of fire 
of an enemy machine gun. Campbell was later 
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The cita- 
tion is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43. 

M 127th Inf Jnl, 1300, 1 Jan 43 ; Ltr, Gen Eichel- 
berger to Gen Sutherland, 1 Jan 43. 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



317 



were swimming, others were clinging to 
boxes, rafts, and logs; still others were try- 
ing to escape in small boats. Artillery and 
machine gun fire was immediately laid down 
on the troops in the water, and, at 1000, the 
air force began systematically strafing them 
with B-25's, P-39's, and Wirraways. 37 

The two top Japanese commanders at 
Buna had chosen to die at their posts. 
Realizing that the end was near, Captain 
Yasuda and Colonel Yamamoto met at a 
central point the same day, Saturday, and 
killed themselves in the traditional Japanese 
fashion by cutting open their bellies. 38 

Despite the fact that the mission was 
already partly evacuated, there were still 
enough Japanese left in the mission and 
along its approaches to give Urbana Force 
(in General Eichelberger's phrase) "the 
darndest fight" all day, 39 At 1000, just as 
the attack was about to open, Major 
Schroeder, who was in a forward observa- 
tion post at the time, was struck and mor- 
tally wounded by a Japanese bullet which 
penetrated his skull. Capt. Donald F. Run- 
noe, a member of Schroeder's staff, at once 
took over command of Schroeder's bat- 
talion, and Colonel Grose came up and took 
personal charge of the coastal drive. 40 

A heavy artillery barrage and white phos- 
phorous smoke shells hit the enemy before 
the troops finally jumped off at 1015. Cap- 
tain Cronk's company on the spit attacked 
southeast. Company C in the swamp, with 



3T 1 27th Inf Jnl, 0545, 0600, 0706, 0745, 0800, 
0815, 0905, 0930, 1010, 1040, 2 Jan 43; 127th Inf 
Tact Hist, 2 Jan 43 ; G-3 Daily Periodic Rpt, Buna 
Force, 2 Jan 43; Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen 
Sutherland, 2 Jan 43, copy in OCMH files. 

" 18th Army Opns I, p. 29. 

"Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 2 
Jan 43. 

40 127th Inf Tact Hist, 2 Jan 43; Ltr, Gen Eichel- 
berger to Gen Sutherland, 3 Jan 43, copy in OCMH 
files. 



Company M still on its right, attacked to- 
ward the north bridge between the island 
and the mission. The two G Companies — 
Company G, 128th Infantry, and Company 
G, 1 27th Infantry, with the latter unit under 
Captain Dames leading — passed through 
the lines of Companies I, L, and M and ad- 
vanced through the Coconut Plantation to 
attack the mission from the southeast. The 
attack went smoothly from the first. The 
phosphorous shells set fire to the grass and 
trees at several points in the mission area 
and, in one instance, exposed a whole line 
of enemy bunkers to Allied fire. Attempts 
by the Japanese to flee these exposed posi- 
tions were met by machine gun fire from the 
troops on the island and on the mission spit. 
As the phosphorous shells exploded in trees, 
they also set afire several of the huts in the 
mission. When enemy troops in dugouts be- 
neath the burning huts tried to escape, they 
ran into bursts of Allied fire which killed 
most of them. 

The remaining Japanese continued their 
dogged last-ditch resistance and had to be 
rooted out of each dugout and bunker by 
grenade, machine gun, and submachine gun 
fire. Company C, 1 27th Infantry, on the left, 
and Company G, 127th Infantry, on the 
right, made excellent progress, but Company 
F, 128th Infantry, on the mission spit was 
held up, as was Company B, 127th Infan- 
try, which had meanwhile resumed its attack 
to the eastward. 41 



41 127th Inf Jnl, 1315, 1523, 1627, 2 Jan 43; 
127th Inf Tact Hist, 2 Jan 43; Ltr, Gen Eichel- 
berger to Gen Sutherland, 2 Jan 43 ; F. Tillman 
Durdin, The New York Times, 8 Jan 43; Rpt, CG 
Buna Forces, p. 36 ; Col Grose, Comments on the 
Buna-Sanananda Opn, 2 Feb 46. For their per- 
formance in the day's fighting, Colonel Grose and 
Captain Runnoe were later awarded the Distin- 
guished Service Cross. Grose's citation is in GHQ 
SWPA GO No. 4, 10 Jan 43 ; Runnoe's, in Hq 
USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43. 



318 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




37-MM. ANTITANK GUN in position to fire at the enemy in Buna Mission. 



At 1400 Company C was in sight of the 
bunkers covering the north bridge. An hour 
and a half later Company G, 127th Infan- 
try, reached the point of the mission with 
Company G, 128th Infantry, hard on its 
heels. Only scattered rifle fire met the troops, 
and they quickly took their first prisoners — 
a dozen Chinese laborers, naked except for 
breechcloths. 

Ten minutes later Company C came up, 
followed by Company M, and in a few more 
minutes Companies I, L, and A reached the 
scene. The engineers had meanwhile been 
repairing the north bridge. By 1620 Com- 



pany H was across it, thus finally complet- 
ing the envelopment. 

The mission was overrun by 1632. The 
remaining enemy troops in the area were 
either flushed out of their hiding places and 
killed, or entombed in them. By 1700 the 
fighting was over except in a few pockets 
of resistance near the beach. There a hand- 
ful of Japanese held out stubbornly and were 
left to be dealt with the next day. 

The mission was a scene of utter desola- 
tion. All through the area the ground was 
pitted with shell holes. The trees were 
broken and bedraggled. Abandoned weap- 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



319 



ons and derelict landing craft littered the 
beach, and Japanese dead were every- 
where. 42 

In its attack toward Giropa Point, Com- 
pany B had been held up by a line of enemy 
bunkers in the road junction near the coast, 
which had been bypassed in the coastal ad- 
vance. As soon as he could, General Eichel- 
berger pulled Company C out of the mission 
area and sent it to the assistance of Com- 
pany B. The two companies launched a 
concerted attack late that afternoon, cleared 
out the bunkers, and by 1930 had made 
contact with the 2/12 Battalion. With the 
2/10 Battalion and the 1st and 3d Bat- 
talions, 128th Infantry, the 2/1 2th had 
finished clearing out the area between 
Giropa Point and the west bank of Simemi 
Greek earlier in the day/ 3 After more than 
six weeks of fighting, the Buna area in its 
entirety was finally in Allied hands. 

The End at Buna 
Cleaning Out the Pockets 

Mopping up of isolated pockets of resist- 
ance on both Warren and Urbana fronts 
continued for several days until the last of 
the enemy troops were accounted for. An 
observer describes the scene on 3 January, a 
Sunday, as follows: 

[By] Sunday, the . . . front from the 
shattered palms of Buna Village to Cape 
Endaiadere was almost peaceful. It was pos- 



n Tel Msg, Capt Hewitt to Col Howe, Ser 4892, 
2 Jan 43 : Msg, Gen Eichclberger to Adv NGF, Ser 
4897, 2 Jan 43, in 32d Div C-3 Jnl. 127th Inf Jnl, 
1550, 1554, 1600, 1627, 1712, 2 Jan 43 ; 127th Inf 
Tact Hist, 2 Jan 43 ; Durdin, The New York Times, 
8 Jan 43 ; Col Grose, Comments on the Buna- 
Sanananda Operation, 20 Feb 46. 

43 127th Inf Jnl, 1930, 2 Jan 43; Buna Force 
G-3 Sitrep, 2 Jan 43 ; Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen 
Sutherland, 2 Jan 43 ; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 37. 



sible to walk its entire length and hear only 
a few scattered shots and occasional bursts 
of mortar fire. In the . . . swamp ... a 
few Japanese snipers still held out, in a patch 
of jungle ... a bunker or two still resisted, 
but great stretches of the front were scenes 
of quiet desolation. . . . The only consider- 
able fighting during the day occurred in the 
jungle area southwest of Giropa Point, where 
a small group of laborers, estimated as high 
as a hundred, fled when the point was cap- 
tured. Their intention perhaps was to try to 
escape through the swamps and jungles, and 
scatter into the interior. . . . 

Americans and Australians however drew 
a line around them from all sides and made 
contact along the beach between Buna Mis- 
sion and Giropa Point, and methodically 
mopped up the enemy pocket. 

Americans quelled the last resistance to 
Buna Mission by Sunday noon in a little 
thicket on the beach where a few Japanese 
held out in bunkers. Routed from the bunkers, 
some scurried behind a wrecked barge on the 
beach and continued to fire. They were finally 
killed by a high explosive charge that blew 
the barge and the Japanese to bits. 

By noon, the Americans had counted 
roughly 150 Japanese dead in the Buna 
Mission area. 

Small squads finished the job of eliminating 
the last fighting Japanese. Some Americans 
[went swimming in] the sea. Some washed out 
their clothing for the first time in weeks, some 
simply slept the deep sleep of exhaustion, 
curled up under shell-shattered trees or in 
sandy foxholes. By Tuesday, the only Japa- 
nese left in the area extending from Buna 
Village through Cape Endaiadere were 
roving groups and individuals . . . who were 
hiding out in jungle and sago swamp, and who 
by now had become desperately hungry. 
These Japanese were trying to keep under 
cover during the day [to prowl] at night 
through moonless blackness in American- 
Australian lines seeking something to eat. 4 * 

Some 190 Japanese were finally buried 
at Buna Mission, and 300 at Giropa Point. 



11 Durdin, The New York Times, 8 Jan 43. 



320 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




32D DIVISION TROOPS EXAMINE BOOTY after taking Buna Mission, 



Fifty prisoners were taken. Warren Force 
took twenty-one horribly emaciated Ko- 
reans and one Japanese soldier. Urbana 
Force took twenty-eight prisoners, mainly 
Chinese and Koreans. Of the few Japanese 
among them most were captured near Si- 
wori Village and Tarakena when they were 
caught naked and unarmed as they swam in 
from the sea. 45 

Booty was heavy on both fronts. On the 

15 Tel Msg, 18th Bde to 32d Div, Ser 4869, 2 Jan 
43; Tel Msg, Capt George E. Aurell to G-2, 32d 
Div, Ser 4889, 2 Jan 43; Tel Msg, 18th Bde to Adv 
NGF, Ser 4918, 2 Jan 43; Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to 
Gen Sutherland, 7 Dec 42, copy in OCMH files. 



Warren front it included, in addition to 
the three-inch naval guns and the pompoms, 
rifles, machine guns, radio equipment, sev- 
eral 37-mm. guns, two 75-mm. mountain 
guns on wheels, nine unserviceable trucks, 
some of American make, and a number of 
smashed fighter aircraft, two of them Zero- 
type planes that were found on the Old 
Strip and looked as if they could be repaired. 
Booty taken by Urbana Force, besides the 
weapons taken in the Triangle and several 
antiaircraft guns captured in the Govern- 
ment Gardens, included a 75-mm. gun and 
miscellaneous items of equipment. Hardly 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



321 




EMACIATED PRISONERS BEING LED TO THE REAR AREA for questioning. 



any food or ammunition was found on 
either front. 46 

The Congratulatory Messages 

By 3 January it was obvious that all 
organized resistance on the Buna side of the 
Girua River was over. In a special memo- 
randum issued at noon that day, General 
Eichelberger told American troops who had 
taken part in the fighting that they had had 

48 Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Gape Endaiadere 
and Giropa Point; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 2 Jan 43; 
Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 7 Jan 43 : 
Rpt, GG Buna Forces, p. 42. 



their baptism of fire and were now veterans. 
The lessons they had learned at Buna, he 
added, would serve to reduce losses in the 
future and bring further victories. 47 

Later that day General Blarney sent a 
message of congratulations to Brigadier 
Wootten and the troops serving under him 
on the successful conclusion of the fighting 
on the Warren Front. Their operations, he 
said, had been marked "by the greatest 
thoroughness in planning," by "constant 



47 Memo, Gen Eichelberger for American troops 
in the Buna Area, 3 Jan 43, Ser 4649, in 32d Div 
G-3 Jnl. 



322 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 




steadiness in control," and by "valor and 
determination in execution." 48 

General Herring in turn, issued a special 
order of the day in which he expressed to 
Australians and Americans alike his appre- 
ciation of "their magnificent and prolonged 
effort." He dwelt on the strength of the 
enemy's defenses, his tenacious resistance, 
the hardships that the men had borne, and 
the fortitude with which they had borne 
them. He complimented all concerned on 
their steadfastness and determination and 



said, "You have done a job of which both 
our countries should indeed be proud." 49 

General Marshall sent General Mac- 
Arthur his congratulations the next day. 
MacArthur thanked Marshall for his con- 
gratulatory message, and added, "However 
unwarranted it may be, the impression pre- 
vailed that this area's efforts were belittled 
and disparaged at home, and despite all my 
efforts to the contrary the effect was de- 



48 Msg, Gen Blarney to Brig Wootten, Ser 4988, 3 
Jan 43, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl. 



ffl Lt Gen Edmund F. Herring, GOC New Guinea 
Force, Order of the Day, 3 Jan 43, copy in OCMH 
files. 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



323 



pressing. Your tributes have had a tonic 
effect." 50 

Buna's Cost 

Battle Losses 

There were 1,400 Japanese buried at 
Buna — 500 west of Giropa Point and 900 
east of it. 51 On the Allied side, 620 were 
killed, 2,065 wounded, and 132 missing. 
The 32d Division sustained 1,954 of these 
casualties — 353 killed, 1,508 wounded, and 
93 missing; 52 the 18th Brigade had 863 
casualties — 267 killed, 557 wounded, and 
39 missing. 53 

The total casualties were thus 2,817 
killed, wounded, and missing — a figure con- 
siderably in excess of the 2,200 men the 
Japanese were estimated to have had at 
Buna when the 32d Division launched its 
first attacks upon them there. 54 

30 Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Marshall, No. 
C-43, CM-IN 2047, 5 Jan 43. Marshall's message 
is No. 91, CM-OUT 1 193, 4 Jan 43. 

51 Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 7 Jan 
43 ; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 42. The above figure 
includes only the counted dead. It does not include 
Japanese dead who could not be counted because 
their bunkers had caved in or had been sealed up 
during the fighting. 

M Rad, Gen Eichelberger to Lt Col G. C. Sher- 
man, G-l Rear Echelon, 32d Div, Ser 5298, 9 Jan 
43, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; Rad, Col Sherman to CG 
Buna Forces, 1455, 10 Jan 43, in 32d Div G-l Jnl. 
These figures are of 6 January, and thus include 
casualties sustained in the mop-up. They do not in- 
clude a figure for those who were wounded before 
6 January and died of their wounds after that date. 
It should be noted that the figures are for Buna only. 
They do not include the casualties sustained by the 
1st and 3d Battalions, and attached troops, of the 
126th Infantry on the Sanananda front, who as of 
6 January had suffered 394 casualties — 76 killed, 
235 wounded, and 83 missing. Jnl, Maj Boerem's 
Det, 6 Jan 43. 

13 Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere 
and Giropa Point. Of the 267 Australians killed, 230 
were killed in action, and 3 7 died of wounds. 

:, Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 42. 



Losses Due to Sickness and Disease 

The troops had been plagued unceasingly 
by all manner of chiggers, mites, and in- 
sects, exposed to debilitating tropical infec- 
tions, fevers, and diseases, and forced most 
of the time to eat cold and inadequate ra- 
tions, sleep in water-filled foxholes, and go 
for days on end without being dry. Their 
gaunt and haggard faces, knobby knees and 
elbows that poked through ragged uniforms 
attested to what the men had been through. 55 

Some of the hazards that faced them were 
revealed vividly in a letter written on 10 
January by Maj. E. Mansfield Gunn, a med- 
ical officer on General Eichelberger's staff: 

... Be sure to rinse the dyed jungle equip- 
ment over and over again in cold water, other- 
wise it will ruin everything [and] make every- 
thing stink. . . . Furthermore, we are not 
sure [the dye] is not absorbed by the body, and 
then excreted in the urine, because some of 
the urine would indicate [that was the case]. 
. . . Tablets for individual chlorination of 
water in the canteen would be of the greatest 
value for all; two pairs of shoes are definitely 
needed [because] everything dries very slowly. 
A chigger repellent for each individual is 
needed for there are millions of the little fel- 
lows. . . . 

[There] is a growing incidence of scrub ty- 
phus here. . . . The inoculations we all re- 
ceived were designed to prevent the European 
typhus, and hence there is nothing to do but 
hope. There are some tremendous rats in the 
area, and no doubt the fleas on same are carry- 
ing the infection from the dead Japanese to 
our soldiers. One medical officer just died of 
the disease and another one is in very poor 
shape today. There has been an awful lot of 
work to do with these units, and under existing 
travel conditions, it is the toughest situation 
any of us have ever been in. . . . Sickness of 
all sorts, particularly of the various tropical 



55 Durdin, The New York Times, 8 Jan 43; Interv 
with Col Moffatt, 24 Feb 50; Interv with Col 
Teesdale-Smith, 10 Mar 50; Interv with Col Grose, 
18 Nov 50; Interv with Maj Odell, 14 Dec 50. 



324 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



fevers is on the increase also, so I expect that 
almost everyone in the division will come out 
of here either wounded or sick. I do not intend 
to paint a depressing picture, but that is the 
truth as things stand today. The figures will 
be appalling to you when you see them. 56 

As late as mid-January Colonel Warmen- 
hoven, then the division surgeon, was urging 
that all troops be compelled to take quinine 
daily, but the difficulty was that the medi- 
cine was still in short supply. He cited the 
case of a battalion in the 128th Infantry 
that had gone for several days entirely with- 
out it. Warmenhoven found also that the 
drinking water was often polluted and some- 
times insufficiently chlorinated. There were 
now field ranges at most of the jeepheads, 
and some of the men had canned heat and 
primus stoves, but the division surgeon nev- 
ertheless noted that rations were still inade- 
quate and that the troops were still eating 
them cold most of the time. 57 

The cost of sickness and disease at Buna 
was to reach staggering proportions. In a 
check of the health of the 3 2d Division un- 
dertaken shortly after the Buna mop-up was 
completed, the temperature of 675 soldiers, 
representing a cross section of the division's 
three combat teams, was taken. Colonel 
Warmenhoven reported that "53 percent of 
this group of soldiers were running a tem- 
perature ranging between 99 degrees to 
104.6 degrees. ... In order of preva- 
lence, the cause of the rise in temperature is 
due to the following: Malaria, Exhaustive 



a Ltr, Maj E. Mansfield Gunn, MC, I Corps, to 
1st Lt. C. A. Farish, I Corps Rear Echelon, Rock- 
hampton, 10 Jan 43, in I Corps Corr File. 

31 Memo, Col Warmenhoven for CG 32d Div, 16 
Jan 43, incl to 1st Ind, 32d Div Hq to Regimental 
Combat Teams of 3 2d Div, 114th Engr Bn, and 
Hq Co, 32d Div, 16 Jan 43, copy in OCMH files; 
3 2d Div Hist of Medical Activities, Papuan Cam- 
paign, in Surgeon General's Hist File. 



States, Gastro-Enteritis, Dengue Fever, 
Acute Upper Respiratory Infection, and 
Typhus (scrub)." The average normal sick- 
call rate of a command, the colonel pointed 
out, was 3.8 percent of its strength. The 
sick-call rate of the 32d Division was 24 per- 
cent, and going higher. Some 2,952 men 
(more than three quarters of them from 
Buna where the division had made its pri- 
mary effort) were already hospitalized be- 
cause of disease and fever, and fifty to one 
hundred were being evacuated from Buna 
to Port Moresby daily for the same cause. 58 

The Situation to the Westward 

Colonel Yazawa Scatters 
the Tarakena Patrol 

Ordered on 31 December to rescue the 
troops at Buna Mission, Colonel Yazawa 
had been unable to leave Giruwa until the 
evening of 2 January and then with only 
250 men, most of them from the 1st Battal- 
ion, 170th Infantry. 59 Shortly after he left 
Giruwa he learned that Buna Mission had 
already fallen. His energies thereafter were 
devoted to picking up as many of the sur- 
vivors as possible. The success of his rescue 
mission required that the spit off Tarakena 
(on which many of the swimmers were land- 
ing, after hiding out during the day from 
Allied planes and patrols) be in Japanese 



w Ltr, Col Warmenhoven to CG Buna Forces, 15 
Jan 43, sub: Health of the Command: Final Re- 
port, copy in OCMH files. 

5B Diary, Maj Nojiri, CO 1st Bn, 170th Inf, in 
ATIS CT 29, No. 350; 18th Army Opns I, p. 27. 
The reason for the delay was a shortage of gasoline 
for the motor launches which were to bring the 
men in from the Amboga River area. Yazawa waited 
as long as he dared for the troops to arrive. Unable 
to wait any longer, he left for Buna Mission the 
evening it fell with the men already at hand. 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



325 



hands. Ordering a careful reconnaissance of 
Lieutenant Chagnon's position, he attacked 
it at dusk on 4 January with the bulk of his 
force. 60 

Lieutenant Chagnon had been reinforced 
that afternoon by twenty-one men of Com- 
pany E, 126th Infantry. When attacked, he 
had under his command seventy-three sol- 
diers from seven different companies — in- 
cluding men from the Headquarters and 
Service Companies of the 127th Infantry — 
a 60-mm. mortar, and three light machine 
guns. The force was short of ammunition 
and grenades, and the attack came as a 
complete surprise. Hit from the front, rear, 
and left, Chagnon's men fought as best 
they could until all their ammunition was 
gone and they had no recourse but to swim 
for it. The lieutenant, who retrieved one of 
the machine guns under fire and continued 
operating it until it jammed, was the last 
man out. Members of Chagnon's patrol kept 
straggling into Siwori Village all that night. 
By the following day all but four had come 
in — a small loss in view of the fact that 
Yazawa's attack had been made in over- 
whelming strength. 81 

Having cleared Chagnon's position on the 
spit and mainland, Yazawa proceeded with 
his rescue work. He was soon able to report 



M 127th Inf Jnl t 1830, 1910, 4 Jan 42; 127th Inf 
Tact Hist, 4 Jan 42; 18th Army Opns I, pp. 28, 29. 

61 Tel Msgs, Capt Hewitt to Buna Force, Ser 
5047, 4 Jan 43, Ser 5051, 4 Jan 43, Ser 5106, 5 
Jan 43, Ser 5108, 5 Jan 43; 127th Inf Jnl, 1100, 
1900, 4 Jan 43, 1430, 5 Jan 43; 127th Inf Tact 
Hist, 4 Jan 43. Capt Louis A. Chagnon, The Ac- 
tions of a Left Flank Security Patrol During the 
Operations of the 32d Division at Buna, 16 Decem- 
ber 1942-4 January 1943, Infantry School Mono- 
graph, in TIS Files. As a result of his reconnais- 
sance, Yazawa set the strength of Chagnon's force 
when he scattered it on the 4th as about 100 men — 
a remarkably close estimate. 



that he had picked up some 190 survivors 
of the Buna garrison. Most of them had 
swum from the mission and had had the 
good sense to keep out of sight during the 
day. 82 

Colonel Grose meanwhile had not been 
idle. By the early morning of 5 January he 
had part of Company F, 127th Infantry, 
across Siwori Creek. The crossing was un- 
opposed. The men quickly re-established 
themselves on the other side of the creek and 
began moving northwestward. 93 

The Stalemate at Sanananda 

Buna had fallen, and the bridgehead 
across Siwori Creek had been re-established. 
The campaign, however, was far from over. 
West of the Girua River on the Sanananda 
front things were at a stalemate, and had 
been for some time. In his order of the day 
of 3 January General Herring had told the 
troops that the battle for Buna was "but 
a step on the way." They still had, he said, 
the difficult job ahead of them of cleaning 
the enemy out of the Sanananda area, a 
job that would "not be any easier than 
Buna." 64 

It was a timely reminder. As Col. Leslie 
M. Skerry, General Eichelberger's G-l, put 
the matter : "While we were engaged in the 
Buna area, we did not have much opportu- 
nity to think about what was going on else- 
where. But after getting rid of the Japanese 
here, we awoke to the fact that there was 
another most difficult situation existing in 
the Sanananda area next door." There, 



92 Maj Nojiri's Diary, in ATIS CT 29, No. 350; 
18th Army Opns I, pp. 28, 29. 

53 Col Grose's Diary, 4 Dec 42 ; Col Grose, Com- 
ments on the Buna-Sanananda Operation, 20 Feb 
46. 

"Gen Herring, Order of the Day, 3 Jan 43. 




WEARY SOLDIER SLEEPS after the battle is over. 



THE FALL OF BUNA 



327 



Skerry noted, "a state of semi-siege has been 
going on . . . with little progress being 
made." 65 



*" Ltr, Col Leslie M. Skerry, I Corps Adv Echelon, 
to Col M. J. Conway, Adj Gen, I Corps Rear 
Echelon, Rockhampton, 15 Jan 43, in I Corps Con- 
File. 



With the 127th Infantry in position to 
move on Tarakena, and the 18th Brigade, 
the tanks, and most of the guns in use at 
Buna available for use on the other side of 
the river, the time had come to move on 
the enemy's Sanananda-Giruwa position in 
force. 



CHAPTER XVII 



Clearing the Track Junction 



The offensive on the Sanananda front 
had indeed bogged down. By the end of 
December the Allies had established road- 
blocks at Huggins and Kano, and made the 
first breaches in the formidable enemy 
perimeter which covered the track junction 
south of Huggins. These, however, were 
only interim victories. The Japanese were 
still fighting desperately in the track junc- 
tion area south of Huggins; they were well 
entrenched in the area between Huggins 
and Kano; and they were holding strong 
positions north of Kano. The tactical sit- 
uation, especially on the Motor Transport 
or M. T. Road, as the Soputa-Sanananda 
track was sometimes known, was to say the 
least unusual. As one observer, in describ- 
ing it, remarked, "At first glance, the sit- 
uation map was simply startling. Along the 
M. T. Road Red and Blue alternated like 
beads on a string." 1 The task was to squeeze 
out the Red — a supremely difficult task in 
the existing terrain. 

General Herring Calls a Conference 
The Arrival of the 163d Infantry 

There were actually three fronts on the 
western side of the river at this time. The 
first was south of the track junction; the 



second was in the roadblock area at Hug- 
gins and Kano; the third was in the 
Napapo-Amboga River area north of Gona. 
Brigadier Porter of the 30th Brigade, in 
charge of track junction operations, had 
under his command the 36 and 55/53 Bat- 
talions and what was left of the 126th In- 
fantry troops fighting west of the river, 
then about 200 men. Brigadier Dougherty 
with his 21st Brigade headquarters was 
operating from the two roadblocks and had 
under his command the 39 and 49 Bat- 
talions and the 2/7 Cavalry Regiment. 
His battalions, the 2/ 14th, 2/ 16th, and 
2/27th, normally a part of the 21st Brigade, 
were mopping up in the Amboga River 
area. 

These battalions of the 21st Brigade had 
suffered extremely heavy casualties in this, 
their second tour of duty during the cam- 
paign. By late December they were down to 
less than company strength. The 2/27 
Battalion, for instance, numbered 55 men 
and the 2/16 Battalion was down to 89. 
It was clear that if the brigade was to fight 
again it would have to be relieved quickly. 2 

Relief was already on the way. As 
planned by General Herring, a fresh head- 
quarters, that of the 14th Brigade at Port 
Moresby, was to take over in the Gona area, 
and the 163d Infantry Regiment of the 41st 



'163d Inf, The Battle of Sanananda. 



1 Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen MacArthur, 27 Dec 42. 



CLEARING THE TRACK JUNCTION 



329 



Infantry Division in the roadblock area. 3 
The arrival at the front of the 1 63d Infantry 
would release troops for action in the Gona 
area, make possible the immediate relief of 
the 21st Brigade's battalions, and permit 
intensification of the attack both north and 
south of Huggins. 

The 163d Infantry Regimental Combat 
Team, consisting of the 163d Infantry Regi- 
ment and 550 attached divisional troops, 
less artillery, arrived at Port Moresby on 27 
December, 3,820 strong, under Col. Jens 
A. Doe. 4 Though it looked for a time as if 



' Msg, Gen MacArthur to Gen Chamberlin, No. 
P-481, 4 Dec 42; Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen MacAr- 
thur, 27 Dec 42; 163d Inf, The Battle of Sana- 
nanda: ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns; 23 Sep 
42-23 Jan 43 ; NGF, Notes on Opns in New Guinea, 
Ser 3. 

The history of the 163d Infantry goes back to 
1887 when the unit was first organized as the 1st 
Battalion, Montana National Guard. In 1898 and 
1899, it served in the Philippine Islands as the 1st 
Montana Volunteer Infantry. In 1916 it saw serv- 
ice on the Mexican border as the 2d Infantry, Mon- 
tana National Guard. It was mustered into the fed- 
eral service in March 1917 as the 163d Infantry, 
41st Division. In December 1917 it arrived in 
France where it was used as a replacement and 
training organization. In 1924 the 2d Infantry, 
Montana National Guard, was reorganized as the 
163d Infantry. In September 1940 the regiment was 
inducted into the federal service with other Na- 
tional Guard elements from Washington, Oregon, 
and Idaho, as part of the 41st Infantry Division. It 
reached Australia on 6 April 1942, one of the first 
American infantry units to do so. Memo, Brig Gen 
Oliver L. Spaulding, Chief Hist Sec, AGO, for Opns 
Br AGO, 11 May 43, copy in OCMH files; AGF, 
Fact Sheet on the 41st Div, in DRB HRS, AGO. 

4 Eichelberger, Out jungle Road to Tokyo, pp. 
59, 60. The following divisional units were attached 
to the regiment: Company E, 116th Engineer Bat- 
talion; Company E, 116th Medical Battalion; one 
platoon of the Clearing Company, 116th Medical 
Battalion; the 7th, 11th, and 1 2th Portable Hos- 
pitals; detachments of the 41st Signal Company, 
the 41st Ordnance Company, and the 116th Quar- 
termaster Company. There was also a detachment 
of military police. Ten units of fire for all weapons, 



the regiment might be sent to the Urbana 
front, the final decision was to have it pro- 
ceed, as General Herring had planned, to 
Sanananda rather than Buna. 

On 27 December, the very day the 163d 
Infantry reached Port Moresby, General 
MacArthur had conveyed orders to General 
Blarney (through General Sutherland who 
was then visiting the front) that the regi- 
ment was to be sent to Buna to help in the 
reduction of Buna Mission, rather than as 
previously planned to the Sanananda front. 
General Blarney immediately protested this 
change of plan. He pointed out that Gen- 
eral Eichelberger had sufficient troops to 
take Buna. He insisted that it was impera- 
tive that the 21st Brigade be relieved imme- 
diately, if it was to continue as a fighting 
force, and expressed his regret that General 
MacArthur had taken it upon himself to 
interfere in the matter. Blarney wrote that 
while he did not "for one moment question 
the right of the Commander-in-Chief to 
give such orders as he may think fit," he 
nevertheless gave it as his belief that nothing 
could be "more contrary to sound principles 
of command than that the Commander-in- 
Chief . . . should [personally] take over 
the direction of a portion of the battle." 5 
General MacArthur apparently saw the 
point, and General Herring's decision to use 
the 163d Infantry on the Sanananda front 
was permitted to stand. 

The 163d Infantry, the unit which had 
engendered this high-level contention, was 
by this time well-trained, and the men, fresh, 
ably led, and in superb physical condition, 



thirty days' supply of all classes, and complete 
organizational equipment, except for motor trans- 
port, arrived at Port Moresby with the troops. Msg, 
Gen MacArthur to Gen Chamberlin, No. P-481, 14 
Dec 42; 163d Inf, The Battle of Sanananda. 

= Ltr, Gen Blarney to Gen MacArthur, 27 Dec 42. 



330 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



were ready for combat. 6 It was at once ar- 
ranged that they would be flown to the 
front, the 1st Battalion leading. The 2d and 
3d Battalions, which were to come in later, 
would follow in that order. 

Early on 30 December the 1st Battalion 
and regimental headquarters were flown 
over the mountains, part to Dobodura and 
the rest to Popondetta. Lt. Col. Charles R. 
Dawley, Colonel Doe's executive officer, 
who was with the echelon that landed at 
Dobodura, immediately reported to Ad- 
vance New Guinea Force, General Her- 
ring's headquarters, at Dobodura. Shortly 
thereafter Colonel Doe flew in from Popon- 
detta, and he and Dawley had a conference 
with General Herring, Maj. Gen. F. H. 
Berryman, General Blarney's chief of staff, 
and General Vasey, who had meanwhile 
come in from Soputa. During the course of 
the conference, Doe and Dawley were told 
that the 163d Infantry would fight west of 
the Girua — the first direct intimation they 
had had of what the regiment's role would 
be. They then went with Berryman and 
Vasey to see General Eichelberger. 7 

The four officers reached Eichelberger's 
headquarters about 1030, and were offered 
tea. General Eichelberger seemed to be un- 
der the impression that he was to get the 
163d Infantry for action on his side of the 
river, and this, as General Doe recalls, is 
what followed: "While tea was being pre- 

6 Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 26 Apr 50. The 
regiments of the 41st Division, General Eichelberger 
kept stressing, would enter combat much better 
trained than those of the 32d. "For four months," 
he wrote, "we were able to supervise their work, 
and insisted upon a lot of scouting and patrolling, 
individual, and squad combat firing with ammuni- 
tion, etc." Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Mac- 
Arthur, 12 Jan 43, copy in OGMH files. 

7 Ltr, Maj Gen Jens A. Doe to Gen Ward, 3 Mar 
51; Ltr, Col Charles A. Dawley to Gen Ward, 7 
Mar 51, with incls; 163d Inf, The Battle of 
Sanananda. 



pared, General Eichelberger explained the 
situation to us and told me he would take 
me up front after lunch to show me where 
the 1 63d Infantry was to go. Generals Vasey 
and Berryman sat silent, and when they did 
not speak up, I told General Eichelberger 
I had been informed the 163 d was to go to 
the Sanananda front." "Plainly surprised," 
it was now General Eichelberger's turn to 
remain silent. 8 

When tea was over, Doe and Dawley went 
on to 7th Division headquarters at Soputa 
with General Vasey. Vasey went over the 
situation with them and told them that they 
were to take over in the roadblock area as 
soon as possible. On 31 December, while the 
1st Battalion assembled at Soputa, General 
Vasey, Colonel Doe, and the regimental 
staff went forward to Huggins and recon- 
noitered the area. On 1 January, while Doe 
and Dawley were busy establishing a supply 
base for the regiment, the commander of 
the 1st Battalion, Lt. Col. Harold M. Lind- 
strom, and his staff went forward to Huggins 
and made arrangements to relieve Brigadier 
Dougherty's forces. On 2 January, the day 
that Buna Mission fell, the 1st Battalion took 
over at Huggins and Kano, and Colonel Doe 
took command of the area from Brigadier 
Dougherty the next day. 9 (Map 16) 

General Vasey at once reshuffled his com- 
mand. He ordered the 39 Battalion, which 
had been holding the roadblock, the 49 Bat- 
talion, which had been guarding the supply 
trail, and the 2/7 Cavalry Regiment, which 
had been operating from Kano, to replace 
the 36 and 55/53 Battalions south of the 



"Ltr, Gen Doe to Gen Ward, 3 Mar 51. General 
Eichelberger later commented, "He [Doe] is right 
in saying that I was surprised that the 163d Infan- 
try would not come to the Buna side." Ltr, Gen 
Eichelberger to author, 19 Dec 51. 

9 Ltr, Gen Doe to Gen Ward, 3 Mar 51; Ltr, 
Col Dawley to Gen Ward, 7 Mar 51. 



CLEARING THE TRACK JUNCTION 



331 




track junction. Upon their relief, the latter 
two battalions would move to Gona, where 
they would relieve the depleted battalions 
of the 21st Brigade, and come under com- 
mand of 14th Brigade headquarters which 
had then just reached the Gona area. The 
relief of what was left of the 126th Infantry 



would be accomplished as soon as the 18th 

Brigade could be redeployed from Buna to 

the Sanananda side of the river. 10 

*> Msg, 7th Div to Adv NGF, Ser 4900, 4911, 2 
Jan 43; Msgs, 7th Div to 32d Div, Ser 4849, 2 Jan 
43, Ser 4978, 3 Jan 43, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; ALF 
Daily Opns Rpts No. 262, 1 Jan 43, No. 264, 3 Jan 
43; ALF, Rpt on New Guinea Opns, 



332 




GENERAL HERRING, Commander, 
Advanced New Guinea Force (left), and 
Gmeral Eichelberger. 



The Conference of 4 January 

General Herring had ordered on 29 De- 
cember that, when Buna fell, the 18th Bri- 
gade and the bulk of the guns and tanks in 
use east of the river be redeployed to the 
Sanananda front. 11 On 2 January, with all 
organized resistance at Buna at an end, he 
ordered that two troops of 25 -pounder ar- 
tillery previously in use at Buna be assigned 
to the Sanananda front. The next day he 
ordered a portion of the tanks to Soputa. 
On 4 January Herring met at his head- 
quarters with General Eichelberger, Gen- 
eral Berryman, General Vasey, and Briga- 
dier Wootten, to work out a final, 



NGF OI No. 57, 29 Dec 42. 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 

comprehensive plan for the reduction of the 
enemy positions west of the river. 12 

Although the conferees had met to devise 
a plan to destroy the enemy, they discovered 
that they had very little knowledge of his 
strength and dispositions, especially those 
north of Kano. It was supposed that he had 
plenty of weapons and ammunition but was 
short of food; his strength, however, was 
anyone's guess. In describing the conference 
several days later General Eichelberger 
wrote, "We decided that we did not know 
whether there were one thousand Japs at 
Sanananda or five thousand." 13 

Despite the lack of any definite knowl- 
edge about the enemy's strength, the Allied 
commanders, acting on the assumption that 
there were still several thousand Japanese 
effectives in the area, quickly agreed upon 
a basic plan of action. As soon as the 2d 
and 3d Battalions, 163d Infantry, and 800 
replacements for the 18th Brigade reached 
the front, the 18th Brigade, the 163d In- 
fantry, and the 1 27th Infantry would launch 
a double envelopment of the enemy's San- 
ananda-Giruwa position. The first two 
units, under command of General Vasey, 
would move on Sanananda by way of the 
Cape Killerton trail and the M.T. Road 
respectively. The 127th Infantry would 
complete the envelopment by moving on 
Sanananda by way of Tarakena and 
Giruwa. 

The main attack was to follow a number 
of essential preliminary operations. These 
would begin with the capture of Tarakena 



33 Msgs, Adv NGF to Buna Force, Ser 4920, 2 Jan 
43, Ser 4924, 2 Jan 43, Ser 4929, 2 Jan 43, Ser 4948, 
3 Jan 43, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; Ltr, Gen Eichel- 
berger to Gen Sutherland, 3, 4 Jan 43, copies in 
OCMH files. 

18 Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 9 
Jan 42, copy in OCMH files. 



CLEARING THE TRACK JUNCTION 



333 



by the 127th Infantry and the clearing of 
the area between Huggins and Kano by the 
1st Battalion, 163d Infantry. The 2d Bat- 
talion, 163d Infantry, meanwhile, would 
capture a position astride the Cape Killer- 
ton trail, just west of Huggins. Then the 
18th Brigade would clear out all enemy 
opposition south of Huggins. As soon as 
these preliminaries were completed, the 
general advance would begin, with the 
127th Infantry attacking westward along 
the coastal track, and the 163d Infantry 
and the 18th Brigade, northward, along the 
M.T. Road and the Cape Killerton trail. 14 

The 18th Brigade Reaches Soputa 

The first elements of the 18th Brigade — 
brigade headquarters and the 2/9 Battal- 
ion — reached Soputa on 5 January, as did 
one troop (four tanks) of B Squadron, 2/6 
Australian Armored Regiment. The tanks 
left Buna just in time, for extremely heavy 
rains had made the road net between the 
Old Strip, Dobodura, and Soputa impassa- 
ble to vehicular traffic, and no more tanks 
or artillery were able to get through for 
days. The 2/ 1 Battalion arrived at Soputa 
on the 6th, and the 2/ 1 2 Battalion joined it 
a day later. The rest of the tanks and the 
two 25-pounder troops, which had been as- 
signed to General Vasey upon the fall of 
Buna, had to remain where they were on the 
eastern side of the river because of the 
wretched state of the roads. 

The weather had not only cost General 
Vasey the use of most of the tanks allotted 
to his front, but it had also made it impossi- 
ble for him to make the best use of the addi- 
tional artillery he had gained as a result of 



11 NGF OI No. 58, 4 Jan 43 ; 7th Div OI No. 21, 
7 Jan 43 ; Ltr, Gen Eichclberger to Gen Sutherland, 
7 Jan 43, copy in OCMH files. 



the fall of Buna. Because of the close quar- 
ters at which the battle was being fought, 
the two batteries in question, the Manning 
and Hall Troops, had no choice but to fire 
obliquely across the front, and to take spe- 
cial precautions not to hit friendly troops. 15 
The guns were useful, but they would have 
been much more useful had it been possible 
to get them across the river. 

The weather had done General Vasey an- 
other disservice by temporarily dislocating 
the flow of supply. The rains were so heavy 
and the tracks so muddy that even jeeps 
could not use them. To compound the dif- 
ficulties, the "all-weather" airstrips at Do- 
bodura and Popondetta became so mired 
that they remained unserviceable for days. 
Fortunately for the Allied offensive effort, 
there was already enough materiel stockpiled 
at the front to tide the troops over until 
the weather changed. 16 

By 7 January the 18th Brigade troops 
from the other side of the river were all at 
Soputa. General Vasey ordered Brigadier 
Wootten to take command of the 2/7 Cav- 
alry and to relieve Brigadier Porter's re- 
maining troops — the 39 and 49 Battalions 
and the remnants of the 126th Infantry. 
The orders provided that the 39 and 49 
Battalions would go into divisional reserve 
near Soputa; that the 21st Brigade, whose 
shrunken battalions had by this time come 
in from Gona, would be returned forthwith 
to Port Moresby; and that the remaining 



15 Tel Msgs, Adv NGF to Buna Force, Ser 4924, 
2 Jan 43, Ser 4989, 3 Jan 43, Ser 4995, 3 Jan 43; 
Tel Msg, Adv NGF to 7th Div, Ser 5000, 4 Jan 43 ; 
Msgs, 7th Div to 32d Div, Ser 5157, 6 Jan 43, Ser 
5227, 7 Jan 43. All in 32d Div G-3 Jnl. Rpt on 
Opns 18th Bde Gp at Sanananda. 

16 Msgs, 7th Div to 32d Div, Scr 4952, 4990, 3 
Jan 43, Ser 5017, 5038, 4 Jan 43; Buna Force G-4 
Rpt, Ser 5022, 4 Jan 43 ; Tel Msg, Adv NGF to 
32d Div, Ser 4995, 4 Jan 43; 32d Div AAR, 
Papuan Campaign. 



334 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



l -T 




SANANANDA POINT. M T iiW, /otwer left, joins the coastal Cape Killerton trail. Note 
enemy barges along the coast. (Photograph taken in October 1942.) 



126th Infantry troops, under command of 
Major Irwin, would be returned to their 
regiment at Buna as quickly as possible. 17 

The Relief of the 126th Infantry 

The relief of the 126th Infantry troops 
was completed by the early afternoon of 9 
January, and Major Boerem, who had been 
acting as Major Irwin's executive officer, re- 
turned to Buna the same day to prepare for 
their reception. 18 The Australians were not 

" 7th Aust Inf Div OI No. 21, 7 Jan 43. 
"3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 59, 8 Jan 43, Ser 
61, 9 Jan 43. 



unmindful of the gallantry with which the 
American troops had fought, and of the 
heavy losses that they had sustained. On 
the 8th, Brigadier Porter issued orders ad- 
juring them and his other troops to "march 
out in as soldierly a manner as possible, 
... in keeping with the pride and quality 
of their past service." 19 In a letter which he 
gave to Major Boerem to deliver to General 
Eichelberger, Porter wrote: 

I am taking the opportunity offered by 
Major Boerem' s return to you to express my 
appreciation of what the men of your divi- 



' 30th Aust Inf Bde GO No. 14, 8 Jan 43. 



CLEARING THE TRACK JUNCTION 



335 



sion who have been under my command have 
done to assist our efforts on the Sanananda 
Road. 

By now it is realized that greater difficulties 
presented themselves here than were foreseen, 
and the men of your division probably bore 
most of them. . . . Your men are worthy com- 
rades and stout hearts. I trust that they will 
have the opportunity to rebuild their depleted 
ranks in the very near future. With their pres- 
ent fund of experience they will rebuild into a 
formidable force. . . . 20 

When the troops had gone into action 
during the third week of November, they 
were 1,400 strong. Sixty-five men of regi- 
mental headquarters had transferred to 
Buna in early December, and there had 
been no other transfers. On 9 January, the 
day of their relief, the troops numbered only 
165 men, nearly all of them in such poor 
physical shape as to be scarcely able to 
walk. 21 

Three days later, with the fighting 
strength of the unit down to 158 men, the 
troops began marching to Buna. Major 
Irwin was at their head, with Captain Dal 
Ponte, as he now was, as his second-in-com- 
mand. After reaching their bivouac at 
Simemi in the afternoon, the men shaved 
and cleaned up as best they could and were 
issued some sorely needed shelter halves and 



"° Ltr, Brig Porter to Gen Eichelberger, 9 Jan 43, 
copy in OCMH files. 

"Ltr, Gen Eichelbcrger to Gen Mac Arthur, 14 
Jan 43; 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 59, 8 Jan 43, Ser 
60, 61, 9 Jan 43; Jnl, Maj Bocrem's Det, 9 Jan 43; 
Memo, Maj Dal Ponte for author, 12 Jul 50. The 
casualties as of 9 January were: KIA, 91, WIA, 
237, MIA, 70; evacuated sick, 711. The bodies of 
most of the missing were later recovered and their 
number was added to the list of those killed in ac- 
tion. The total number of casualties, including the 
evacuated sick, but excluding 88 men on the sick 
list who had not yet been evacuated, amounted to 
1,109. 



mosquito nets. Two days later, 14 January, 
General Eichelberger had a little ceremony 
of welcome for them. 22 "I received the 
troops," he recalls, "with band music, and 
with what might well be described as a mar- 
tial welcome. Actually, it was, whatever 
face could be put upon it, a melancholy 
homecoming. Sickness, death, and wounds 
had taken an appalling toll. . . . [The 
men] were so ragged and so pitiful when I 
greeted them my eyes were wet." 23 

The Preliminary Operations 
Tarakena and Konombi Creek 

The general plan of operations formu- 
lated on 4 January at General Herring's 
headquarters provided that, until the 163d 
Infantry and the 18th Brigade were com- 
pletely in place and ready to move on Sana- 
nanda, the enemy was to be deceived into 
thinking that the coastal drive on Tarakena 
and acro ss Konombi Creek was "the main 
push." 24 \(See Map /FT)] General Eichel- 



berger laid his plans accordingly. Urbana 
Force, now principally the 127th Infantry 



" Tel Msg, 7th Div to 32d Div, Ser 6114, 1 1 Jan 
43; Tel Msg, Col Tomlinson to 32d Div, Ser 6147, 
12 Jan 43; Memo, Maj Dal Ponte for author, 12 Jul 
50; 3d Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 64, 12 Jan 43; Jnl, 
Maj Boerem's Det, 14 Jan 43. 

" Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, pp. 
56, 57. Reporting to General MacArthur that night, 
General Eichelberger wrote, "Today I talked to men 
of the 126th who returned from the Sanananda 
track and are now near my CP.... The strange 
thing is that they looked good to me, General. They 
had been cleaned up, and I can see hopes for the 
future in them far beyond anything that they imag- 
ine." Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen MacArthur, 14 
Jan 43, copy in OCMH files. 

" Ltr, Gen Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 7 Jan 
43. 



336 



VICTORY IN PAPUA 



(with elements of the 126th and 128th In- 
fantries in reserve ) , would mount the push 
westward; Warren Force, principally the 
1 28th Infantry, would remain in place and 
occupy itself with the beach defense. 

Colonel Yazawa's scattering of the Chag- 
non patrol from its position near Tarakena 
on the evening of 4 January made it neces- 
sary for Colonel Grose to order forward a 
fresh force to retrieve the lost beachhead on 
the other side of Siwori Creek. Artillery 
fire was laid down on the area during the 
night to make it untenable for the Japanese 
until the troops got there. Early on the 5th, 
Company G, 127th Infantry, under com- 
mand of Lieutenant McCampbell, crossed 
Siwori Creek, followed shortly afterward by 
Company F, under 1st Lt. James T. Coker. 
The crossing was slow, for the creek was 
broad and Colonel Grose had only two small 
boats (one a black rubber affair captured 
from the Japanese ) with which to ferry the 
troops and their supplies across. The troops 
finished crossing by 0900 and began moving 
westward — Company G along the narrow, 
exposed coastal track and Company F, in 
the swamp, covering it from the left. 

Colonel Yazawa's troops, principally ele- 
ments of the 1st Battalion, 170th Infantry, 
the so-called Nojiri Battalion, were still in 
the area. During the 5th and 6th they made 
several stubborn stands, retreating only 
when the Americans were on the point of 
overrunning their positions. By the 7th the 
two companies were within 500 yards of the 
village, and there the enemy again made a 
stand. Company E, under 1st Lt. Powell A. 
Fraser, meanwhile moved onto the sand- 
spit with a 37-mm. gun, and began to en- 
filade the Japanese with canister. With this 
support the two companies again pushed 
the enemy back on the evening of the 7th. 



They captured five machine guns, including 
two lost by the Chagnon patrol. 25 

The next day Company G again moved 
forward. As before Company E was on the 
right supporting its advance by fire, and 
Company F in the swamp covered it from 
the left. The numerous enemy troops in the 
swamp and the swamp itself made it difficult 
for Company F to keep up. 26 Spurred on by 
Lieutenant Coker, the company com- 
mander, and S. Sgt. Herman T. Shaw, in 
command of the leading platoon, 27 the com- 
pany drew abreast of Company G and kept 
its position there for the rest of the day. 

At 1600 Company G attacked again. It 
reached the outskirts of Tarakena village 
within the hour and captured three enemy 
machine guns, an enemy mortar, and the 
remaining machine gun lost by the Chag- 
non patrol. Two fresh companies of the 1st 
Battalion, Companies C and A, ordered 
forward earlier in the day by Colonel Grose, 
had just come up, and reduction of the vil- 
lage was left to them. The two companies 
passed through Company G, Company C 
leading, and launched the attack that 
evening. The attack gained its objective 
quickly. Company C was inside the village 



35 Msg, Capt Hewitt to Col Howe, Ser 5155, 6 Jan 
43, in 32d Div G-3 Jnl; 127th Inf Jnl, 0630, 0854, 
5 Jan 43, 0835, 0940, 1105, 1107, 1110, 1320, 6 Jan 
43; 32d Div Sitreps, No. 146, 5 Jan 43, No. 148, 6 
Jan 43, No. 150, 7 Jan 43; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 5, 
6, 7 Jan 43 ; Diary, Maj Nojiri, in ATIS CT 29, No. 
350; Interv with Col Grose, 15 Nov 50. 

* Tel Msg, Capt Hewitt to Col Howe, Ser 5256, 
8 Jan 43; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 8 Jan 43; Ltr, Gen 
Eichelberger to Gen Sutherland, 9 Jan 43, copy in 
OCMH files. Company E by this time also had a 
.50-caliber machine gun which it was using with 
excellent effect on the Japanese in the village. 

J ' Coker and Shaw were both later awarded the 
Distinguis